Manitoba Free Press
In 1911, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood was in a period of transition. Two thousand of its members had relocated from Saskatchewan to British Columbia where they were establishing communal settlements and enterprises. Another six thousand waited to join them. While they remained in Saskatchewan, these driven, hard-working Doukhobors productively operated the CCUB agricultural, commercial and industrial enterprises there. The following account by a Winnipeg, Manitoba visitor to their community at Veregin, Saskatchewan describes the material prosperity and substantial progress of what was already then a multi-million-dollar enterprise. Published in the Manitoba Free Press on August 26, 1911. Photos courtesy the Doukhobor Discovery Centre Autochrome Exhibit.
Nearly eleven years ago, eight thousand people harried from the realm of the Czar, sought refuge in this Canada, and under the shadow of the Union Jack set up their altars and built their homes. These Doukhobors, for it was they, now as a community, count their worldly possessions in six figures, and M. W. Cazakoff, general manager of the community, told me that this year fully $1,000,000 would pass through his hands. In addition to this all, the money lent them at the time of their immigration, including the $185,000 given by the Quakers of Great Britain and United States, has been paid back.
To many of the Canadian people, the term Doukhobor, if thought of at all, is tucked without anchor under the genus foreigner, usually has a shawl tied under its chin, and if the philosopher in question is a very deep philosopher indeed, he adds that the Doukhobor lives in villages and, oh yes, is given to going on religious marches.
CCUB general store, Verigin, Saskatchewan, 1911. Courtesy the Doukhobor Discovery Centre Autochrome Exhibit.
To such I recommend a visit to Veregin, the headquarters of the Yorkton community settlement. In the town itself is the trading store of the Doukhobor society, the brick yards and the flour mill, and dotting the prairie out from it are fifty-five villages, bits of the old world framed in a setting of Canadian fields of grain. A private telephone line connects the settlement and the latest acquisition is a large size touring car. Three to four hundred magnificent horses are also the property of the society, and only the very latest in machinery and in methods of farming finds place with the Doukhobors. They have 100,000 acres of land, and in addition, the government has lent them for an indefinite period 18,000 acres – 15 acres a head.
As one of my people remarked, “Peter Verigin runs the show and Peter Verigin is no slouch”. As every one knows Mr. Verigin is the leader of the Doukhobors – heaven-sent, they believe – and his word is law. All properties and monies are in his name. Strange that a people should resist with their lives the dominance of one individual, only to seek that of another. By the way, Mr. Verigin prefers “Doukhobor” spelled “Duohobors”. At present he is in British Columbia superintending the establishment of the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works at Brilliant and Nelson. To British Columbia, two thousand of his people have already gone, and the rest will follow, so many this fall and the rest in two years. Especially among the older ones, the prospect of the western province is alluring. “Columbia she like Rusee, Beeg Mountains there, Me hurt in my heart for the mountains,” and the old patriarch who was speaking waved his hand with patient resignation towards my beloved prairies. Verity to each of us his own land.
Visitors at the CCUB flour mill and elevator, Verigin, Saskatchewan, 1911. This mill would process grains into flour and then ship to various destinations. Courtesy Doukhobor Discovery Centre Autochrome Exhibit.
But to return to the Doukhobors at Veregin. Tall, clear eyed, they stand, for the most part fair, but with here and there a dark face, publishing the story of the proximity in the old land of the Turkish border, kindly, courteous always, and with an almost infinite capacity for minding their own business. It is only when one stays with and among them that one discovers underneath the courteous veneer, a solid wall of purpose, and that purpose is rooted and grounded in religious conviction. A Doukhobor and his religion are one, and form his religion springs his whole plan and system of life.
Each leader chooses his successor, divine revelation being given him to that end, and this leader has absolute power. “Our last leader,” explained young Peter Verigin’s nephew to the Peter, “was a woman and she choose Mr. Verigin. We not know, perhaps he not know himself, who be next.”
Each year in March an annual meeting is held and to this meeting each village sends five representatives – three men and two women. Then an account is given of the year’s work, and plans are made for the coming year. A committee of three is elected, whose duty it is to advise with Mr. Verigin as to policy of the society.
CCUB members plow the prairies near Veregin, Saskatchewan, 1911. Courtesy the Doukhobor Discovery Centre Autochrome Exhibit.
A tenet of their faith teaches them that all property should be held in common; therefore the community system. Each village is given so many acres of land, according to the population of the village and to the fertility of the soil. Population varies from 50 to 250. Each village is like one family, running its own account at society stores and being credited with all the produce it may deliver. One man buys for the whole village, clothing, food, etc.
“But suppose,” asked my friend with the satiable curiosity, “two girls wanted a dress off the same piece of goods, and there was only enough for one. What would you do then?” “Go buy some more just like,” answered nephew Peter laconically. “But,“ she persisted, “don’t your people ever feel cross one with the other?” Such abounding peace and goodwill did hardly seem canny. “Yes,” answered Peter the solid, “then the old men of the village go speak with them and they are kind once more.”
This year the colony at Veregin has ten thousand acres in crop, seven thousand in oats, and three thousand in wheat. Flax is also grown to some extent. Horse ranching as an industry has also grown to considerable proportions. A few years ago cattle and sheep farming was an important factor, but the Doukhobors felt that such a practice was inconsistent with their religion, which forbids the taking of life. Now only enough cattle and sheep are kept to supply milk and wool to the colony. This spring Mr. Verigin intimated that all the men between the ages of 18 and 60, except those needed for the manning of the brickyard, etc. should go out among the “English” and bring back this fall each two hundred dollars to his own village. Of course they went. “Theirs not to make reply.”
Workers pose inside the engine room to the cable carriage assembly at the CCUB brick works, Veregin, Saskatchewan, 1911. Courtesy the Doukhobor Discovery Centre Autochrome Exhibit.
The brick yard employs 14 men, and this season will export 1,000,000 bricks. Into the great mixing bins the clay is dumped where the power of the great engines mixes it freely. Then into the moulds and on to the trays it goes after which the formed bricks are slipped along the trolleys to the drying sheds. After so many days there, according “as the sun she is,” they are carried to the immense kilns where for nine days and nights 235,000 are at one time kept under steady fire.
Between the brickyard and the mill is a blacksmith shop, and as an example of Doukhobor attention to detail it was noticed that the yard was literally full of wagons and binders being repaired and made fit against the coming harvest.
The mill fitted with the latest machinery stands on a slight elevation just above a slough. At least, the body of water in question would be a slough to most Canadians, but the Doukhobor has dammed back the water till it is ten feet deep, and thus is the source of the mill water supply. Two hundred barrels of flour and one hundred barrels of oatmeal is the daily output. In close proximity to the mill stands the elevator, really a double elevator, for it is fitted with two engines, one working for the mill and one for the public. The Doukhobors handle not only the grain of their own people, but also buy from the general public Mr. Cazakoff told me that last year he had often counted sixty teams in the yard at once waiting to unload.
Visitors and workers pose at the CCUB elevator, Verigin, Saskatchewan, 1911. Courtesy the Doukhobor Discovery Centre Autochrome Exhibit. K.M.H, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Special thanks to Corinne Postnikoff of Castlegar, British Columbia for her assistance with the data input of this article.