by Fred J. Chernoff
In 1899, the widow Anyuta Semenovna Chernova and her six sons, Alyosha, Nikolai, John, Feodor, Mikhail and Andrey, departed from their village of Slavyanka in Elizavetpol province, Russia (present-day Azerbaijan), seeking religious freedom and new opportunity in an unknown land. Arriving on the Canadian Prairies, they helped establish the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB), the main spiritual, social and economic organization of the Doukhobors in Canada. They first settled in the village of Sovetnoye, in the Veregin district of Saskatchewan, where they lived and farmed communally until 1912. They were then assigned to Khutor, a farm settlement in the Veregin district where they raised pure breed horses and cattle for communal purposes until the demise of the CCUB in 1938. Reproduced by permission from “The Brothers Chernoff From Azerbaijan to Canada” (Winnipeg: 1992), the following excerpt recounts, in frank, personal detail, the faith, courage and strength of the Chernoff family of Doukhobors during the early decades of their settlement in Canada.
Settling in the Veregin Area, 1899
The efforts of many individuals with Christian dedications cleared the many hurdles that had to be handled for the Chernoffs to have arrived in Canada. It must have been an exciting and frightening time for them and the other 7,500 [Doukhobor] immigrants to settle their new land where only the Indians had roamed previously. The making of Canada their new home had begun, and their search for religious expression had continued.
Anna Semenovna Chernova (1864-1934), matriarch of the Brothers Chernoff and their descendants. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.
Along with Anyuta [Chernoff] and her six sons came her four sisters who were married later to Anton Popoff, a Podovinnekoff, a Verigin, a Sherstobitoff and one left in Russia. Her deceased husband’s relatives included brothers Mikisha, Danila and a sister married to a Samarodin.
The Chernoffs were more fortunate then most of the new immigrants settling the prairies at that time and who had to work on their own to establish their new home. They were part of the 7,500 [Doukhobors] who had arrived within four months and were divided to go into 57 villages in the Veregin, Buchanan, Canora and Swan River areas of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Here, they were instructed by their leader P.V. Verigin to settle Canada under a communal type of living with everything owned in common. Verigin was influenced by Tolstoy in starting the communal way of life. However, working together under a communal type of living, they shared the difficulties and by working together they were able to make satisfactory progress in building shelter and starting farming operations.
Upon arrival in [what would become] Veregin [district] in the spring of 1899, they were assigned to the village of Sovetnoye located six miles northwest of Veregin. Here the first project was to build shelter. Their first emergency housing consisted of holes in the ground with sod roofing. Ladders were used to gain entry. It was not too long before log houses replaced the sod structures and they were [thereafter] used for the cold storage of vegetables. It was a big change from their beloved Slavyanka [in Elizavetpol, Russia – now Azerbaijan] where they had prospered and many evenings must have been spent in these discussions. However, they were now in a new land and much remained to be done. The many skills that the people brought with them had to be applied in their new home. This was not the first time that the Chernoffs and other [Doukhobor]s were relocated and had to start anew.
Doukhobor woman drawing a pail of water from a well, c. 1899. Library and Archives Canada PA-022227.
It was a time for everyone to contribute towards the common good of all. Women and the older men stayed in the villages to build houses and to break the land whereas the able bodied men went out to earn dollars by working on the building of railroads across the prairies. Any money that was earned had to be turned over to a central fund for allocation to the building of their communal way of life. Land required clearing and breaking. It was necessary to hitch 24 women to the plow in the North Colony [near Swan River] and break the land for the initial growing of crops for food. There were no oxen or horses. Everyone had to contribute and fortunately the practice of women pulling plows did not last for too long. As money became available, horses were purchased for land work. Prior to the arrival of their leader P.V. Verigin in 1902, they had developed their own administrative system.
During the first eight years, there was continual progress being made by the villages in the breaking of land. However, controversy with the government was developing regarding homestead rights and taking of the oath of allegiance. The Chernoffs, following their leader’s directions, claimed that it was their belief not to own land individually and not to take the oath of allegiance as their only allegiance was to God. The government pressed this issue and in March 1906, 258,880 acres of the land that was cleared was repossessed and sold by the government to other new immigrants. Land was then purchased in British Columbia by the central organization [the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood] under the leadership of Peter V. Verigin who was now in complete control of these new immigrants. Many of the 7,500 signed up to go to British Columbia and were relocated to start a new life in British Columbia under very adverse conditions. The Brothers Chernoffs remained in Saskatchewan.
Life at Khutor, 1912 – 1938
In accordance with a decision by their leader P.V. Verigin, [in 1912,] the Chernoffs were moved to a village called Khutor located 3 1/2 miles northeast of Veregin at Section 13, Township 30, Range 1. West of the 2nd Meridian in the Rural Municipality of Sliding Hills. It was a new village and was designated as a centre for raising pure breed horses and cattle for communal purposes. In Russian, khutor means “little village” [or “farmstead”]. It was an ideal location for Anyuta with her six sons and their families to make their home. It was a good choice to move the Chernoffs here as they possessed superior skills in the raising of farm animals. Certain members of the family were to remain at Khutor until the bankruptcy of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in 1938. This farm remains in the hands of Fred J., a grandson of one of the [original] Brothers, John.
The large, two-story multi-family dom (residence) at the Khutor farmstead, c. 1925. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.
The Brothers Chernoff and their descendants from Khutor were [informally] known as “Khutorsky”. There were many Chernoffs who were not related to each other and were identified by certain names. The Brothers Chernoff were a natural for the type of work expected at Khutor. They were skilled in this type of work and it was an extension of the skills brought with them from [Elizavetpol, now] Azerbaijan as they had excellent stud farms there. Horses were badly needed for communal farming purposes and were raised here. Stallions and brood mares were kept for raising stock. The Brothers Chernoff took pride in the raising of pure breed horses and gained recognition in horse shows at Kamsack and Yorkton. As horses were an essential part of farming, the Brothers Chernoff became well-known. While Nikolai was the outstanding horseman, the other brothers took an active role in the administration of the duties in the running of Khutor affairs. Even the mother Anyuta, who was a mid-wife and practiced folk medicine, had her own medication to prescribe for sick animals. Wild broncos were brought in from Alberta and had to be broken by Nikolai. He excelled in this work and was suited in personality and physical strength to deal with wild horses. Khutor was a hub of activity.
Khutor became well know and their leader P.V. Verigin used it as a showpiece for Doukhobor progress to show outsiders. Many visitors were brought there and the Chernoffs looked after things with great care. It was indeed a place to show and [it] was common practice to whitewash the cow barn whenever Verigin visited. Cleanliness was important to the Chernoffs as well as in the maintenance of the Khutor facilities. During the peak of the Chernoff life here, there were 20 adults and 25 children living under one roof. The house itself was a stately looking building about 30′ X 100′. It had a veranda on three sides with 20 round white columns supporting and adorning it. There were two stories with 10 large bedrooms and a gigantic kitchen. It was heated by 2 brick stoves and a number of box heaters. Wood was used as fuel. One big bedroom was allocated to each brother’s family and all the family slept in that one room. The veranda was a great place for children to play and it was well used.
Within this building was a special room [gornitsa]. It was a separate bedroom, specially furnished and set aside for P.V. Verigin on his official visits to Khutor. The bedding was always aired, the room dusted and made ready at all times for his unexpected visits. Ladies were assigned to look after this room and to cook for him. A self contained red brick heating unit was built into the room. As children I can recall, we were always warned to keep away from this room. We were not allowed to step inside even during cleaning time when the door was open. It was a special place to be treated with respect and everyone knew it. P.V. Verigin was their spiritual leader and acted in the role of priest [i.e. spiritual leader] and czar [i.e. secular leader]. It was their [i.e. the Doukhobors’] custom to attribute Christ-like qualities to their leaders and few doubted his authority. He had the respect of his followers at Khutor and most feared to confront him with the exception of Nikolai. While being his follower, he stood up to him with the same courage and stamina he displayed with wild horses. P.V. Verigin thought twice in his dealings with Nikolai but was generally very good to the Chernoffs at Khutor. During the leadership of P.P. Verigin, son of Peter V. Verigin, after his arrival in 1927, it was seldom used but always ready.
The early years were time for all to contribute. Initially, they had to eat from one bowl which was placed in the centre of the table and had two spoons for eating purposes. Money was required for other purposes. However, times were getting better at Khutor and there were [eventually] individual bowls available. Always they came under the leadership of their leader P.V. Verigin; the Brothers Chernoff were devout followers and expected their families to do the same. Verigin’s orders were law and were followed to the letter by most. There were dissidents to Verigin’s edicts, but fear of being thrown out of the community and of the outside world kept many people in line. Life was getting better for the Chernoffs and they were all together.
Here at Khutor, the mother Anyuta and her six sons made their home and lived according to customs brought with them [from Russia]. They enjoyed their own way of life and were minimally effected by the ways of other cultures that were surrounding them. It was a time of progress for the community. Living in this manner gave them comfort and support from their own kind and a lifestyle seldom enjoyed by other immigrants at the time. They were part of a communal way of life, had a leader that they respected, and all property was owned by the [central] organization. They were living in their own kind of world and Russian was the working language.
It was up to the Brothers Chernoffs to manage the operations of this village in the running of the day to day affairs. Living under one roof with six families was no easy matter. Alyosha, the oldest brother was the one in charge, but it was the mother Anyuta who was the peace maker. It was to her the Brothers turned for solving problems and maintaining harmonious relationships. The situation was further complicated by the relationships between the wives and children. To deal with children’s problems, there was one rule – only parents were to discipline their children.
Labour was divided among the men and household duties among the women. The brothers that didn’t have sons had to assign their daughters to carry out activities such as plowing with horses and hauling hay which would normally be done by men. Men would be encouraged to find summer employment on the outside and turn this money over to the community central treasury. I can remember my own father recalling being under pressure from his father to turn over all his earnings over to the community fund. He wanted to retain a few dollars to buy his new bride a gift. He was not successful and carried out his father’s command. His brother Nick J. flatly refused to turn over all the money and retained five dollars to buy his new bride a gift. There was much pressure by certain Brothers Chernoffs to turn over all the money that was earned on the outside in accordance with Verigin’s instructions. There was much conflict.
Horse-drawn sleights in front of the Khutor residence, c. 1920. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.
Eating arrangements were that men and women ate together. Children ate separately with the Grandmother usually at the head of the table. She also slept on the clay oven [peche] in the kitchen and looked after the children. A clay oven was constructed out of brick and clay. After being heated with wood, it maintained the heat and provided for a warm resting place. The meals were vegetarian. Singing of hymns was a common practice after meals. Their leader P.V. Verigin, while in exile in Siberia, proclaimed on Nov. 4, 1894 and ordered a ban on drinking, smoking and meat eating as a step towards the achievement of spiritual purity. The Chernoffs, being devout followers, abided by this ruling. Two women were assigned to cook for the whole family in one week shifts as well as to look after the kitchen. Bread was baked twice a week in the indoor clay oven located in the kitchen. It baked superior bread and is remembered by many. After the bread was removed from the oven, Grandmother would slice the crust and rub it with garlic. It would serve a dual purpose. Children would enjoy it just like candy and it would serve to prevent colds. Children would often run barefooted in the fall due to not having proper footwear available. Large root cellars were made to store the many barrels of soured vegetables and hundreds of cabbages and wagon loads of potatoes. Dried beans and peas were used with many sacks of dried fruit received from their communities in British Columbia. They never tired of potatoes and borshch.
Laundry was done by hand on washboards in large wooden troughs, in the bath house [banya] or outside. A water softener was made by mixing wood ash and water by letting it stand overnight. This mixture was then added to the wash water.
Recreation consisted of visitation, talking, eating and steam-baths or walking 3 1/2 miles to Veregin. Everyone would work till Saturday noon and then it would be time off. The steam-bath or banya was a busy place. The Chernoffs were well known for their strong singing voices and this would be a common pastime. Other than celebrating Peters Day [Petrov Den’] on June 29, the date when their people burned the arms in 1895, there were no other holidays [observed in Canada]. The break with the [Orthodox] Church meant there were no religious days to be observed. Everybody waited for Peters Day on June 29 and had fresh clothes. There was a feast on the grass and was a big holiday for the children. Everything closed and horses rested as no farm work was done. There was no Christmas and no other holidays. There was no electricity and no radios.
Sunday morning was a time for worship. Grandmother got everyone together with the exception of two women cooking and two that had to milk the cows. The rest of the adults would be in prayer service from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Everyone said their prayers as they knew them and were taught. Some would be short and some rather lengthy. Then, the singing would start for about an hour. Nothing was written down and everything done from memory. Everyone got along fairly well and didn’t hold grudges or resentments. The reason perhaps being was they didn’t have anything to resent or envy. Spirituality was an important component of their lives.
When greeting visitors, the following was used [by the Doukhobors of Khutor and elsewhere]:
– How are you?
– God be praised. How are you?
– Thanks. How are your people at home?
– Thank you.
– Our people send greetings.
– Thank you.
At each phase, the speaker removed his hat and bows with a bare head. It is said that in greeting one’s brother, the Christian must have a kind heart and gentle expression. All this is done sedately and without haste, no matter what urgent matter may exist.
Families of Fedya N., Nikolai N., Alexei N., and Mikhail N. Chernoff at Khutor, c. 1915. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.
Flax was grown for making cloth and oil from it for cooking. Women and the children would rub the skins off the flax seed by hand and the seed taken to the other [Doukhobor] villages for pressing out the oil. This oil was used for cooking instead of butter. They also grew kanopi (hemp) and made from it oil for cooking. This was apparently better than flax oil and besides kanopi was a member of the marijuana family of plants. It was also used for baby soothers on occasion as it made them sleep especially when they cried. Flax straw was used for making cloth. This material was dyed and shirts, pants and suits were made at Khutor for the Brothers Chernoff by their women. For women, the winter months were a time for being behind the spinning wheel but it was seldom put away. Knitting socks from their own wool was a common practice in order to keep the feet warm in the severe cold winter months. They made their own dresses, underpants and jackets. While flax straw was commonly used for making cloth and was finer, the kanopi plant straw also provided for the making of material by the Chernoffs. This material came out a thickish, grayish product but after bleaching in the snow, would become white. They spun and coloured their own wool. Many beautiful rugs were made on the loom at Khutor by the children of the Brothers Chernoff. Four by six feet rugs were made from dyed wool and it was the custom to place these rugs under the bedding to provide for added comfort on the wooden beds. Mabel J. [Chernoff] provided much leadership in the making of these rugs and must have been trained by her mother. This art must have been learned from their Azerbaijan neighbours and the nearby Persian rug makers from Iran and Turkey. Rug making involved all members of the family and each had taken their turn at the loom. The rugs are now classified as collector’s items and the ones in good condition could be valued up to $6,000. The Chernoffs who are in possession of these rugs should be proud to have this heirloom and know that their ancestors had brought this skill to Canada. They should be handed down to family members who realize the value and the history of this prize possession. They made table clothes from linen, serviettes and runners for dressers which they sold commercially.
The Chernoffs were self sufficient in many areas and the skills of the people coming from Ukraine and [Elizavetpol] Azerbaijan contributed to their independence. Land was being broken, cultivated and grain grown. They farmed a total of six quarters of land. This grain was being hauled to their own community elevators that were built in the town of Veregin. Progress was being made.
The organizational centre for communal activities was in Veregin. Here the organization built their own offices, stores, garages, flour mill and grain elevators. Their leader’s residence and prayer home was located here. This was considered head office for business and spiritual affairs. It was the centre where all major decisions were made and business transacted. Veregin was a booming centre and a place of activity. From the store, Khutor received its allocation of supplies such as tea, salt, rice and other commodities that were made available to all community people. Of course, the individuals who broke away from the community were independent and provided for themselves as any other immigrant. It was here that the grain raised at Khutor was hauled and simply deposited at the community elevator and turned over to the organization. Veregin was the centre for Saskatchewan Doukhobor affairs,
Panoramic view of the Khutor farm site and surrounding landscape, c. 1925. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.
Peter V. Verigin, being a strong leader, continued to influence the lives of the Chernoff Brothers. The Mother Anyuta and all the Brothers Chernoff were devout and loyal followers and believers in his directives and actions. They and others had attributed special powers to him and treated him with much respect. It is difficult for us now to reason why they behaved in this manner but such was their position at the time. For more detailed information on Verigin’s leadership styles and role much is available in other publications, but it would be safe to say that he took on the role of a benevolent dictator and provided the leadership in the running of their affairs. Some of Peter V. Verigin’s less popular directives that affected the Chernoffs at Khutor were:
1. For a time, he didn’t allow cows and chickens in the villages. This meant there was no butter, eggs and milk for the children. In 1914 he allowed one cow for 40 people. The Chernoffs started to raise chickens and he disallowed them.
2. Discouraged frills such as put on Mary F. [Chernoff] by her mother. While inspecting the children on one of his visits, he tore it off and remarked, “it wasn’t necessary to have frills on hats”. He discouraged pretty clothing and encouraged plain clothing made from linen.
3. No irons to be used or watches worn and to work only by the sun. Ironing of clothes was done by wrapping clothing on rolling pins and rolling a piece of board with ridges over the rolling pins.
4. Three binders were purchased at Khutor for cutting grain. Verigin disallowed them and instructed the people to cut grain with a scythe just like in Russia. The women would gather the grain, wrap it in straw strings and stand them up to dry. They would be harvested using sticks and made rollers to separate the kernels.
5. He discouraged education among the people. Education would lead them to military service and get them into trouble. It was necessary to listen to him for fear of being expelled from the community penniless. Those that were expelled were prevented from visiting their relatives and the relatives within the community were further punished if they received their visits. Those that were expelled, left in desperation and empty handed. They were often helped by Ukrainian or German immigrants.
6. Authorized and dissolved marriages according to his wishes.
7. No dancing or music was allowed and to sing only hymns authorized by him.
8. On one of his visits in 1914, he switched the names John N’s children John and Nick to Nick and John. The reason being that Nick looked like his father and should be named John, and the other, [who] was reddish and looked like his mother, should be named Nick. He then instructed the boys to respond only to their new names. As there was no registration of children, his word was law.
9. In the 1920s, Verigin instructed all the women living in the communities to cut their hair short like men. His reason was to be able to identify the women living in his communities at a glance as opposed to those that were independent and had broken away.
Such were the conditions that the early Chernoffs had to live under and abide by. But, they were used to this life for the past 100 years and placed much faith in their leaders. This type of life was consistent with their early lifestyles in Russia and later, only that, the leaders had different faces now. No doubt their Leader had to take drastic measures and probably for valid reasons in running the affairs of this group of people living under communal conditions. But generally, [he] had treated the Chernoffs at Khutor reasonably well.
Many adjustments had to be made as the family was increasing. As the Brothers had moved out, more room was made available for those remaining. It was customary to arrange marriages as practiced previously and for women to be a couple of years older especially when the family had no girls.
Pavel Biryukov (center) with the Chernoffs at Khutor. He was a former personal secretary to Tolstoy and was brought in by Peter P. Verigin to teach the children Russian and to educate them. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.
During the summer, it was common practice to take the cattle to the Indian reserve for the summer months. This reserve was located a few miles east of Khutor. Tents would be pitched and ten year old children with adults would herd and milk the cows.
Schooling was a controversial subject and was rejected by the leader. In 1927, Pavel Biryukov came with Verigin from Paris at the age of 80 and was Tolstoy’s secretary. He joined [Peter Petrovich] Verigin on the promise that he would be allowed to set up an educational system among the Doukhobor children in Canada as long as it didn’t infringe on their beliefs. Biryukov had Gabriel Vereshchagin as his assistant, but was stifled by Verigin’s inconsistent allocation of funds. Finally Biryukov, discouraged, ill and broken, returned to Switzerland where soon afterwards he died. He is included with one of the pictures of the [Chernoff] family at Khutor. Linden Valley School was a distance of 1 1/2 miles from Khutor. It was in the Kamsack region and school attendance was more enforced here than at other villages close to Veregin. Many did not attend at first but the boys were encouraged more than the girls and attended twice a week. Girls were encouraged to be taught by parents to wash diapers, clothes and to cook. Children attending school were instructed by parents not to sing ‘O Canada’ or participate in physical exercises because it meant preparation for war services. There was about 80 students to 1 teacher. Khutor horses would take the children to school in the winter time and would be let loose to go home on their own as the barn would be full with other horses. During the severe winter months it was common to have other children stay overnight at Khutor but many would walk home and be exposed to the bitter cold. Warm footwear would depend on whether money was available. Clothes were sewn for children from home made woolen material.
Most of the independent [Doukhobor] farmers who left the community were sending their children freely to school but the followers of Verigin had different ideas. The children around the village of Verigin initially didn’t go to school as the trustees would not enforce their attendance and besides the fines were not paid. [Peter Vasil’evich] Verigin promoted his position against education and scared the people by saying that it would lead to military service. Some claim that he did this in order to retain his control over uneducated people. To this day there are many who deeply resent Verigin’s position and that of their parents on the matter of education as this position was most detrimental to the advancement of all the people. In due time, the government’s insistence on education was enforced and the resistance to schooling was history.
The Brothers Chernoff and their families remained at Khutor until one by one they started to move out to other locations as designated by Verigin. The family was growing and there was a shortage of room in the house. In 1920, Alyosha and his family moved to a nearby village with his family. Towards the end of the 1930’s, only the widow of Nikolai N. who died in 1932 along with her family of four daughters, and the family of John N. remained at Khutor.
The Brothers Chernoff and their wives at a family gathering at Khutor, 1942. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.
In 1924, P. V. Verigin was unfortunately killed in a British Columbia train bombing. The administration of Community affairs was carried out from the office at Verigin, Sask. by individuals hired for this purpose. A process was then put in place to get a replacement Leader for the people. It was decided that his son Peter P. Verigin was to be the successor. Necessary negotiations with the Russian government were completed for his release because of some irregularities and in October, 1927 he arrived in Canada. From the time of his arrival in Canada and his taking over of complete leadership, things began to change in the management of Community affairs. His reign and leadership styles were very controversial. Much is recorded on this subject in various publications and passed down verbally. After turbulent times, he died in Saskatoon in February, 1939.
Leadership styles and practices have a great bearing on the success or failure of any organization. So it was with the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, and shortly after the passing of Peter P. Verigin, the Community was not destined to survive. Because of the unconventional behavior of it’s Leader and unsound investment practices, it was to lose control and ownership of all of it’s properties in Manitoba, Saskatchewan. Alberta and British Columbia. In 1938 the organization was broke and could not pay its debts. The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood was foreclosed by the National Trust and other mortgage companies and bankruptcy proceeding were under way. From the collective contribution of thousands of people, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood had grown in financial and material success since it started in 1899 but in 1938 had ended in failure and had to declare bankruptcy. It was the largest communal enterprise attempt in North America and observers say that it was largely due to the influence of Lev Tolstoy on P.V.Verigin while he was in exile in Siberia prior to his coming to Canada. With this failure came the end for the communal living of the Brothers Chernoff and their first forty years in Canada. The dream for a spiritual communal life and their 40 year experiment was not destined to last and a new chapter was to begin for the Chernoffs.
It was an end to the Brothers Chernoff story at Khutor. They had to set themselves up as independent farmers and needed to purchase land individually which was seized by the mortgage companies. They had to start anew and in most cases in debt. But to start again in 1938 was nothing new to the Brothers Chernoffs. They had done this before in Russia in the 1700’s, in Ukraine in the early 1800’s, in [Elizavetpol] Azerbaijan in 1845, in Canada in 1899, and now again in 1938 in Canada. But, it was with a difference now. Each was starting on their own and would be responsible for their own operations and actions. Perhaps this was part of their destiny and the search for the expression of their personal beliefs. Some Chernoffs commenced farming operations while others moved to British Columbia and obtained jobs in various fields. Canada gave them the option of taking their rightful places in our society just like any other citizen that came to this country. By the way, as far as it is known, no sons of Anyuta were involved with the radical Freedomite movement. However, there are other stories as told by relatives about relatives that were not included for safety reasons and could be as dramatic. Sorry about that, the best stories are often left untold in print. John N. Chernoff purchased the [Khutor village] land in 1940 where Khutor is now located and lived there with his family till the early 1950’s.
The old house that was called Khutor still stood until the early 1980’s and was getting into a pretty desperate state of repair and stability. Every little wind blowing across the prairie would rock it but it managed to withstand the ravages of time. It had frequent visitors who wanted to revisit the place of their roots and walk inside this old house once again with nothing but memories filling every corner of the house and their hearts. It’s always a pleasure to visit places that are near and dear to our hearts as it enables us to make a contact with our past and gives us a sense of identity that is so elusive in this day and age. To relive the memories of the days gone by get more precious by the moment as the years fleet by. It was a place for many to visit but was becoming a safety concern for those entering this old house.
Google Map of Veregin, SK district settlements where the Brothers Chernoff lived and farmed, 1899-1938.
In 1988, as the house was getting into a hazardous condition and the safety of people visiting this location was a concern, it was demolished. Today, nothing remains but the land where Khutor stood on and the many memories of the Chernoffs who made their home here and people with whom they come in contact. Sources say that there are two persons buried on the little hill southeast of the house [site]. A twin who died at birth and a Chernoff who was befriended by the Brothers Chernoff and lived with them during his years in Canada.
I still like to go there and relive the many memories that fill my memory bank and my heart. I then leave the place feeling that somehow here, I have my roots and my identity that will be mine forever as the home of my childhood for the first six years of my life. It is also the Canadian home of my ancestors the “Brothers Chernoff from Azerbaijan” and that of their descendants whoever and wherever they might be.
This is the great story of our ancestors, a very ordinary people who came to settle this country. It will continue now and forever in Canada and many parts of the world through the descendants of a little woman named Anyuta and her six sons, the “Brothers Chernoff from Azerbaijan”.
A brief profile of the Great Grandmother Anyuta and her six sons follows. There are many matters that deserve mention and have been omitted. For this we are extremely sorry, as this information was not available at the time. But this project can be continued on any Brother’s family and [we] would encourage someone from each family to do this. Record your own special history, add you family’s photos and bring up to date your own special information respecting your family. You too can make this up to date information available to grandchildren or your relatives. This may be the greatest gift you can leave them. Much of the early research had been done and the rest is easier to obtain.
Anna (Anyuta) Timofeyevna Chernova (1864-1934)
Her husband Nikolai was born without knuckles on one hand and died while on his route to exile in Siberia in 1895. They had six sons who lived and two sons and one daughter who died at an early age. All were born in [Elizavetpol, now] Azerbaijan.
Together with Alyosha she governed the affairs of the Brothers at Khutor and was strict in many ways. Her responsibilities included the care and concern for the grandchildren. She always sat with the children during the meals as the grandchildren always ate separately.
Grandmother Anyuta Chernoff and her grandchildren at Khutor. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.
She provided much guidance to the Brothers and their families. Was the family mediator and everyone went to her for consultation. She didn’t read or write Russian but spoke fluently the Azeri and Tatar language. As a midwife, her role was that of providing medical assistance and advice to people who were having medical problems. Her recommendations were a big breakfast which included soup, porridge, fried potatoes, kasha and rice. Big dinners at noon included borshch, perohy, beets, fried cabbage and only a small supper with soup. She encouraged everyone to eat lightly and not overfill with anything heavy. No food was thrown out and meals were planned accordingly. No food was to be left on the plate. She advised and guided when to seed according to the moon. When the hills were dry, it was time to seed the radishes and advised them of the time to set hens on hatching eggs. One of the sons had brought home a new bride who did not get along with the other wives. After discussion with Verigin, the son was advised to take the new bride home to her village in order to keep peace and harmony within the family.
She was well respected in the community for her midwifery skills. All grandchildren were delivered by her. She developed special skills for handling breach babies and was called by Dr. Thran at Kamsack for assistance with the Mrs. Sheets baby. This was requested by Mr. Sheets as Dr. Thran advised him that nothing further can be done to his wife and she was at risk. She corrected the breach and the baby was delivered successfully. Providing certain medication went along with her services: she had turpentine for bruises, white liniment for cold and fevers, with which she rubbed the chest and back etc. She used certain herbs and plants for medicine.
There were people who were emotionally disturbed and came to her for assistance. They had worries, depression, sleepless nights, confusion and no direction in life. Cures such as whispering with prayer [stikhi], and bloodletting was used to alleviate certain illnesses. There was a case of an eight year old girl who had one eye shut and came to her for help. She took her three times in the morning to a field and washed her face with dew. The girl was instructed not to look back. This corrected her ailment and the eye opened up. Children who had been frightened or feared things would be brought to her for treatment. She would position a child by a tree, drill a hole in the tree at the same height as the child, clip some nails and hair from the child, mix this mixture with gum or bread, put this mixture into the drilled hole and cover it with the tree shavings drilled out previously. She would slowly say a prayer in a whisper and nobody knew the contents of the prayer. The person was instructed not to look back upon leaving the location. It resolved problems in many cases and would change people’s lives. It was said that she had acquired these special powers from her mother-in-law in the old country as she too was a midwife and practiced folk medicine. Her cure for children’s stomach pains was to sit them on the floor with the knees bent. Routine was to bend over and lick salt. In the process the pain subsided and the cure was effective. It is rumored that she used horse manure liquid for curing hangovers.
Grandmother Chernoff pitcher and glass – her only worldly possession. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.
Throughout the years in Canada she had delivered many babies and on many occasions had to be at the farm home where the mothers was expecting for long periods of time. The only mode of transportation was by horse and sleigh, particularly in the winter. During her midwife career she didn’t lose one child. Fedya N. remembered her making medicine using butter and some other ingredients. Delivering babies was her only income source during her later years while living with Fedya.
Teena A. as a child had lived and slept with her, and stated that she was very kind to her and was even better than some mothers. Upon returning home from delivering a baby, she was asked by Teena where the baby came from? Her response was, that she pulled the baby from a pond and that it was in a bag.
She was a quite spoken woman who had many daughter-in-laws and was respected by her sons and their families. Her hobbies included knitting socks and spinning wool. She always had candy and liked to eat peppermints. She respected Verigin and was scared by him that her sons would be taken away for military service if they got educated and for this reason discouraged education for the sons. Her last years 1928-1934 were spent living with Fedya and his family. Prior to passing away, she asked to see Mike M. Chernoff. During this visit, she told him that she had 30 grandchildren and should she die that she didn’t have anything to leave them. However, she had a water pitcher and 3 glasses as her only possession and would like to leave it for one grandchild. She decided to leave it for him, and besides he was the only one that brought her peppermints which she liked very much. A picture of the pitcher and a glass is included with the photos. She passed away in 1934 without any earthly possessions with the exception of planting the Brothers Chernoff from Azerbaijan in Canada and perhaps stressing the importance of passing around a few peppermints along the way.
She is buried in a community cemetery north of Veregin and left a total of 275 descendants as counted in 1992.
Alyosha Nikolayevich Chernoff (1877-1967)
Alexeii N. Chernoff (1877-1967).
He was married in Azerbaijan at an early age in a marriage arranged by the parents. Was literate in Russian and spoke Azeri. Rejected a military call in 1895 and served in jail.
At Khutor he played a leadership [role] in the running of affairs. His duties included the allocation of work, finances, problem solving, decision-making and generally carrying out the orders of their leader. He took on a fatherly role and was easy going. Was well liked by the family, listened to by everyone and certainly had the assistance of Anyuta when required. He was a devout Christian and a loyal follower of the leader P.V. Verigin. His composed, peaceful manner had helped him maintain his fine facial features in his later years. He had aged gracefully and was at peace within himself. The later years were spent living with his son Wasyl and his family on a farm about 1/2 mile west of Khutor.
His family consisted of three sons: Nick – born in 1893, Peter – born in 1901, and Wasyl – born in 1909. At the age of 80 years he started to learn English and finally realized that education was important. His grandson Bill W. was the first Chernoff to have attained the highest academic standard to that date in obtaining his Doctorate in Mathematics.
“A Message to Relatives” was written by him in 1964. It is the only recorded history of our family by a Chernoff from Azerbaijan. It is included proudly and appreciatively of his foresight in recording his story for the family to retain for future purposes.
His family moved from Khutor in 1920 and he is buried in the [Old] Veregin cemetery. He requested to be buried in the old cemetery if the roads were passable as Nikolai, Anyuta, Hanya, and Marisha were buried there.
Nikolai Nikolayevich Chernoff (1880-1932)
Married to Dunya Makaroff and had four daughters: Mabel – 1912, Annie – 1914, Dora – 1919 and Marge – 1923. He was a very strong willed individual and signed his name with a X. Had attractive features, more outgoing than the other brothers, strong willed, courageous and enjoyed his wine on occasions.
He was nicknamed “Czar” because of his exceptional qualities in character and his ability to handle horses. Verigin nicknamed him Czar “king of the horses” and recognized him for this and gave him a gift of a saddle and a gold watch. There are many stories about his role at Khutor and especially about him standing up to Verigin. He must have been envied by many people for his lack of fear against this man. Leadership qualities and determination were his traits and had carried out many business transactions for Khutor with merchants and Indians as necessary. He was a friend of the Indians and got along extremely well with them.
Nikolai N. Chernoff (1880-1932) with wife, Mabel and Annie. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.
He was a top man with horses and probably one of the reasons the Brothers Chernoff were placed at Khutor. Was in charge of breaking, breeding, and preparing horses for community work purposes. He was gifted horse trainer of the highest quality and also in the supervision of other men. The story is told that when the Alberta wild broncos were received and brought to Khutor for breaking in, he would go into the corral with a whip. By cracking the whip and shouting them down, he would control the horses and proceed with making them useful for farming purposes. Because of his exceptional strength, it was said that if the horses would prove too stubborn and he met with resistance, that he would grab them by the neck and throw them to the ground.
During the digging of a well in January 1932, and in discussion of financial affairs regarding the turning over of money earned outside by the Chernoffs to the central treasury, he died of a heart attack.
The widow Dunya and her daughters continued to live a Khutor until about 1938. She had then married a widower John J. Mahonin and moved to a location a mile from Khutor.
John Nikolayevich Chernoff (1891-1957)
Shortly after his arrival in Canada, he was placed by Verigin in the village Novoye where there was a family that had only girls. During his time there, he married one of the Semenoff girls and made his home here till 1912. At this time all the Brothers Chernoff were assigned to Khutor.
John N. Chernoff family, 1924. (back l-r) Anyuta, John N., Hanya, Mabel, Nick, John. (front l-r) Pete, Harry, Sam. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.
The family consisted of: Mabel – 1905, John – 1908, Nick – 1912, Peter – 1917, Sam – 1918 and Harry – 1921. He was an honest man and a devout follower of P.V. Verigin in accordance with his mother’s wishes. His skills included that of a carpenter, blacksmith and other skills so necessary to carry out all the operations at Khutor in the growing of crops and the breeding of animals. In 1935 his wife Hanya passed away at the age of 48 from pneumonia and he was left alone to take care of his boys. He was the longest living brother who had lived at Khutor. Married a Polly Barisoff [in] about 1942 and at that time Walter Barisoff came to live at Khutor with his mother. They moved to Veregin to retire and in 1953 with his health failing Mrs. Barisoff chose to leave and live with her children. He decided to move to British Columbia where he had three sons and daughter living. His last years were spent living with his son Harry, wife Elizabeth and children Wayne, Cary and Elizabeth at Appledale, British Columbia.
During his working career, he ran a steam engine and had a lifetime certificate from the government. He was a mechanic for threshing machines and steam engine fuses. Also worked at driving the stallion around during the breeding season from farm to farm. The charge was $2.00 at the initial visit and $2.00 when there was a colt born. Spring was the usual season for this work and lasted about a month. Khutor was a place to visit and I spent many happy days visiting Grandpa’s place.
He is buried in a cemetery at Passmore, British Columbia and his wife is buried in a cemetery directly north of Veregin.
Feodor Nikolayevich Chernoff (1888-1982)
Married Fanya Popoff in Veregin, who was born in Georgia. They had six children: Mary J. Chutskoff – 1912, Polly P. Kyba – 1915, Helen Selander – 1917, Laura P. Kabatoff – 1922, Tena Yurkowski – 1927 and Fred – 1932. Fred is married to Nayda Podovinnekoff.
When he first arrived in Canada he had worked on building the railway from Winnipeg to Dauphin. Here a certain foreman wanted to provide him with an education or training to take on supervisory responsibilities. His mother and brother Alyosha discouraged him to accept.
[He] lived at Khutor till 1928 and then moved one mile east to live with Alyosha’s family because they didn’t have any girls. The girls would help with chores as well as stooking. P.V. Verigin wanted 25 individuals in each section [at the time].
Members of the Feodor N. Chernoff family in front of their Model T Ford at Khutor, c. 1925. (Back row, l-r) Anyuta, son Feodor N. and wife Fanya. (Front l-r) Helen F., Laura F., Polly F. and Mary F. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.
He was interested in horses and was a shoemaker. From leather he made shoes for men, women and children. This was a winter job and continued until enough money was available to purchase manufactured shoes. Made his own patterns and sizes to fit individual people. Was a generalist and did many things that required doing. Had a mild manner about him and was 5’8″ tall with blue eyes and blonde hair. Looked more on his mother’s side of the family. As Verigin discouraged education, he signed his name with a X. He discouraged his wife to read in Russian to the children. Because of Verigin’s policy on education, members of his family resented this position and blame Verigin to a large degree for their father’s actions regarding education. Spoke the Azeri and Tatar language with his mother and Aunt Dunya Popoff on her visits from Yorkton. This was especially useful when they didn’t want the children to know. He practiced folk medicine and must have received instructions from his mother on bloodletting which was a common practice for individuals with certain ailments. Removed warts by tying a silk thread around the wart and hung the thread on a door hinge. When the silk was worn out, the warts would disappear. This was done after the full moon and after the moon decreases, the warts would disappear. He mother taught him that if people believed, it would work and if they didn’t, then for them to go home.
The girls had to take on men’s work in contributing to Khutor operations and to carry their family load or share. Mary recalls that at the age of 10, she would put the harness on the 4 horses and sit on the plow all day. It was normal for the girls to haul hay and stock during harvest. They would cut hay on the Indian reserve and stacked it. Then, after bailing it by hand, it would be hauled to Kamsack and shipped away by railroad.
His wife Fanya passed away in 1955. He lived in Veregin alone until the last year of his life and looked after himself. It was common to see him walk 1 1/2 miles to his son’s Fred farm which he enjoyed doing. He never looked old for his 94 years and made numerous trips to British Colombia to visit with his family. Got along well with people and had a good sense of humor. He died at the Kamsack Nursing home after a brief illness and is buried in the Veregin cemetery.
Mikhail Nikolayevich Chernoff (1892-1966)
He was married to Helen Chernoff and raised 3 sons: Mike born in 1911, George born in 1914 and Paul in 1920. Helen was raised by her great uncle and aunt.
From the time of being placed at Khutor, he was in charge of providing transportation to P.V. Verigin from 1912 to 1924, at which time he was killed in a train bombing in British Columbia. Special carriages and horses were always at Verigin’s call whenever needed. They were stored at Khutor and one carriage carried 18 passengers.
Like the other brothers, he had an exceptional strong singing voice. This was supplemented by his wife Helen, who also excelled in singing. They made a remarkable singing pair and were recognized by their people for this quality. They both possessed a good memory for the songs and hymns as they were not written down at this time. He was a good dresser and took pride in his appearance. He too went out to work and brought money into the community. While in Toronto working on bridge construction, he fell and severely injured himself. Mr. Klutz a well known bone setter from Mikado, helped set his bones and assisted in his recovery.
Mike N. Chernoff and family, Khutor, SK c. 1935.
He left the community to farm on his own in 1938. The experiences at Khutor equipped him with many farming skills. He farmed until 1942, at which time he sold his farm and moved to Grand Forks, British Columbia. There, he purchased a sawing outfit and sawed cordwood for people.
His son Mike M. Chernoff, perhaps became one of the best known Chernoffs in the Community. In 1928, Mike started to work in the office of the Christian Community Universal Brotherhood at Veregin. By 1935, he rose to the rank of Secretary-Treasurer of this organization. Up to 1939 was a personal secretary to P.P. Verigin. He was intimately involved in the bankruptcy proceeding of the C.C.U.B., and the private affairs and activities of P.P. Verigin up until his death in 1939. He is the only surviving original Director and Shareholder of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. [as of] 1992. The pitcher and glasses given to him by Anyuta are in possession of his son in Vancouver.
His sons George and Paul lived close to him in Grand Forks. Paul had gained a considerable recognition for his outstanding singing voice in the area and certainly carried on the Chernoff traditional skills in singing. His singing career tragically ended with an unfortunate accident on July 13, 1955.
Both him, and his wife Helen who died at the age of 82, are buried in a cemetery at Grand Forks, British Columbia.
Andrey Nikolayevich Chernoff (1895-1975)
Was the youngest of the Chernoffs to arrive in Canada at the age of five. It must have been quite an experience for one so young to make the journey to Canada and the settling in to start a new beginning.
In his marriage to Polly Sherstobitoff, they had a son Andrew born in 1917 and a daughter Teena born in 1920. This marriage ended in separation and Andrew went to live with his mother and Teena with her father. He then married Nellie Kurenoff and they farmed north of Mikado. Was one of the first brothers to leave the community and start independent farming operations in 1928.
(l-r) Andrey N., John J. and John N. Chernoff at Khutor, 1915. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.
He held the role of a veterinarian at Khutor and during his life on the farm. Had instruments for fixing teeth, performed castrations and pierced stomachs whenever the animals would over-eat grain. He performed this work for community people at no charge but charged outsiders. Was a self-made veterinarian and very interested in working with iron and enjoyed his blacksmithing chores. Left Khutor in 1928 and like the other brothers had a strong singing voice. While living in Mikado, it was common for him to travel by sleigh 23 miles to Kamsack in severe cold winter weather. Had an outgoing personality and made sure he got along with his neighbors. He helped neighbors in their blacksmithing requirements and in many cases at no charge. Did his own carpentering and had his own steam engine for threshing purposes. Was very good to Teena and wanted his daughter to be home before sunset. He never laid a finger on her and his looks were good enough and she respected him. Was very kind but was strict.
Kamsack was his retirement home. Together with Nellie, they spent many pleasant years together in their clean, comfortable home with many close relatives and friends. His wife Nellie is the only living survivor [as of] 1992 of the wives of the Brothers Chernoffs from Azerbaijan.
He is buried in a cemetery at Kamsack. Sask.
About the Author
Fred J. Chernoff was born at Kylemore, Saskatchewan in 1927 and for the first eight years lived at Khutor (Veregin), Saskatchewan where he experienced the historic community style of life. He entered the grain business in 1951 as a grain elevator manager, was promoted to a District Manager at Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan in 1968. Then transferred to Head Office in Winnipeg, Manitoba until retiring as an Administrator of Training / Development and Industrial Relations / Safety in 1989. Since retiring in Winnipeg in 1999, he was fully occupied with volunteering and serving on various community boards/projects. This also included four CESO volunteer assignments in 1993-2000 as a Volunteer Advisor in the former Soviet Union during their historic times. With his wife Natalie, they spent 170 days there and also shared a rare opportunity to learn more about the country of his ancestors. Fred’s interests included traveling, writing, dancing, performing magic, cottage life and visiting his family in Vancouver, British Columbia. During his early retirement, the books “The Brothers Chernoff from Azerbaijan to Canada” (1992) and “The Posnikoffs from Georgia to Canada“ (1998) were written. Currently, he is writing a new family book, “The Gift Of Ancestors“ which will be available mid 2011.