Manitoba Free Press
In 1905, a group of 160 Molokans living in Kars, Russia, weary of civil unrest and strife in their country, decided to emigrate. In June of that year, they took coastal ships from Russia to Western European ports where they boarded transatlantic ships bound for Canada. Disembarking at the port of Quebec, they boarded trains for the Canadian West, seeking land to settle on and farm. They arrived at Winnipeg, Manitoba in July, arousing widespread interest and curiosity among the city residents. They received a hearty welcome from local Doukhobors and Russian émigrés who encouraged them to stay. The following account of the Molokan sojourn in Manitoba is reproduced from the Manitoba Free Press articles “A Strange People Reach the West” (July 5, 1905) and “Welcome Molokans” (July 6, 1905). Preface and Postscript by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.
The Molokans referred to in this story immigrated to Canada aboard three ships. First, 112 Molokans (Bukharev, Dvornin, Fadeev, Fetisov, Kholopov, Kulikov, Metchkov, Mokshanov, Morozov, Novikov and Samarin families) sailed to Canada aboard the SS Southwark. This Dominion line steamship departed June 22, 1905, under Captain J.O. Williams, from the port of Liverpool, England. It carried 867 passengers. After 10 days at sea, the vessel arrived at the port of Quebec on July 1, 1905. View shiplist. Another 24 Molokans (Cheremisin, Pluzhnikov, Shubin and Treglazov families) departed aboard the SS Montreal. This Canadian Pacific line steamship departed July 18, 1905, under Captain T.C. Evans, from the port of Antwerp, Belgium. It carried 267 passengers. After 12 days at sea, the vessel arrived at the port of Quebec on July 29, 1905. View shiplist. Finally, 24 Molokans (Kudinov, Machov, Planin, Prokhorov, Pudov and Shetuchin families) sailed to Canada aboard an unidentified ship.
Group of Russian Molokans, similar in dress and appearance to the group which arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1905. New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Digital Image ID: 50667.
A Strange People Reach the West
Party of Molokans from Transcaucasia Arrive
Yesterday the train brought over one hundred Molokans, including women and children, from the Kars district in Transcaucasia. That country being joined to the Russian empire in 1878, the Doukhobors and Molokans were located there. Those who wish to see the aspect and attire of these new immigrants may find them at the immigration building. They are somewhat different from the Doukhobors in dress, although the features of their faces are much similar.
Resemble the Doukhobors
The Molokans are Russian dissenters who have sprung up from the same origin as the Doukhobors, and it is believed by some, received their religious tenets from the English Quakers one century ago, which teaching they have partially modified. Unlike the Doukhobors, the Molokans have not objected to their sons being enrolled in the army, although they have always been a peacable and law-abiding people. They also differ from the Doukhobors by the reference they pay to the teaching of the Bible in their religious services, and by the solemnity they attribute to the sacred rite of matrimony.
As soon as the arrival of the Molokans became known, a well known Doukhobor rancher visited the immigration building and greeted them in their own tongue. He shook hands with the grey-bearded man who seemed to be the oldest one of the party, and the following conversation took place between them:
“When did you arrive?” “This morning,” answered the aged Molokan. “Have a good journey?” “Thanks, fairly good.” “Where did you come from?” “From the Kars district.” “How many miles were you living from the town of Alexandrovsk?” “About thirty.” “Were you very far from the Doukhobor settlement?” “Why, we were living right between their villages. Our villages were scattered among the Doukhobors.”
“I suppose you are used to raising cattle? There are many empty homesteads in this part of the country which is very good for mixed farming.” “We can raise cattle, but we believe more in raising grain, and the produce from the earth. We believe God has especially blessed farming for the welfare of man.”
Immigration Hall in Winnipeg, Manitoba where160 Molokans stayed in 1905. It served both as an arrival location and as a way station for immigrants traveling to other destinations in Western Canada. Library and Archives Canada, C-042728.
“Then one of the younger men enjoined, “We have not seen any good land all the way from the east.” “This you mean probably the rocks and hills and water courses you saw before reaching Kenora” “Yes, that was the kind of land we saw.” “You need not be anxious; you will see very good soil indeed in the northwest. Everybody praises this country for its wheat.”
“We have been raising excellent wheat, barley and oats in the Kars district. Corn and buckwheat could not grow because the land was too high above the level of the sea.” “Yes, I know it is situated on a plateau. Then it seems the climate you will meet here will not be unfamiliar to you.”
“I hope good men will show us where to pick up better land, but your time of harvest seems to be much later than in the country we left. When we started from there one month ago the wheat began to throw its ear, and here it is only raising its green blade from the ground. Some of our brothers have settled in Los Angeles, California, and they like very much that country.” “So do those that have lived here for years too.”
Informed of Naval Mutiny
“Did you hear that the fleet of the Black Sea is in a state of mutiny, and that those that are sent to fight the strikers say they would not lift their hands against their brethren.”
“Yes, I believe that,” said a younger Molokan, with an intelligent face, while the older men looked at the informant suspiciously, as if he were giving false statements.
1911 Census map showing the Immigration Hall on Higgins Avenue adjacent to the Canadian Pacific Railway station in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
“Yes, a similar case occurred in Tiflis, where the soldiers refused to fight against the mob. But then the Cossacks were called to the spot and charged the crowd. The people are very excited against the landlords in the Caucasus, in some places they stripped the priests of their robes and shaved half of their hair. They tore off the sacred pictures and other articles from the churches, and smashed them and stamped them under their feet.
Describe Scenes of Murder and Pillage in their Country
“In several villages they shot the noblemen, took from them the estates, and divided the land between them. They also compelled the noblemen to sign a resignation of their property in favour of the peasants.
“In one instance the prince and owner of one estate refused to comply with their demands, but his son signed a resignation to suit them. They let go the son but they killed his father. But then there were some other noblemen who would not submit to the arrogance of the population. They avenged the old aristocrat’s death by killing his son.
“Oh, fancy what bloody occurrences are heard of in your country,” exclaimed the naturalized Doukhobor. “Who are those people who killed the noblemen? They are in Tiflis, you said?”
“They are the Georgians, an Asiatic tribe of the Greek creed, who live in Transcaucasia, of which Tiflis is the main city. These people abused the priests, despised the sacred shrines and images, and then they said to their priests; What need have we of you. We don’t want to feed you and to support you, and to be fooled any longer by the kind of religion you teach us.
Photo of a Molokan elder from the Caucasus taken in Los Angeles, California, c. 1905. New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Digital Image ID: 490797.
“Do you expect to stay over Sunday in Winnipeg?” asked the Winnipeger, turning to the grey-bearded patriarch. “Yes, most likely,” he answered. “We have not yet quite settled our minds as to our movings.”
Mr. and Mrs. Sherbinin Entertained Last Evening in Their Honor
The newly-arrived party of Molokans from Russia received a hearty welcome yesterday afternoon at Mrs. Sherbinin’s cottage, 72 Shultz street, where a group of them were entertained. Mrs. Sherbinin was assisted by several prominent ladies of the city, while Mr. Sherbinin entertained the men. Friendly conversation was indulged in, hymns were sung, and refreshments were served. The new-comers made an impression upon their Canadian entertainers as being an intelligent and pious people.
The features of the men seemed to be more like those of the Icelanders than of the Slavs of southeastern Europe. Through circumstances they have been denied school advantages, the Russians refusing to allow them schools of their own, while the people refused to send their children to Russian schools to be taught religious doctrines and usages contrary to the faith of their parents. Through home teaching, however, the great majority of them are able to read. Their devotional music appeared, judging from their chanting of a psalm, to be very similar to that of the Doukhobors. Their beliefs are said to differ from those of the latter people in that they do not absolutely refuse to do military service, though they are peaceably inclined to such an extent that a main consideration in leaving Russia was that their sons might not be sent away to the war; and that they are not purely vegetarian in their diet, but hold themselves free in this respect. They have elders in their villages who conduct their religious services, but they do not observe the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, holding that these are to be given a spiritual interpretation.
The future movements of the party are not yet announced. A number of the families have near relatives in southern California, and have a natural desire to join them, but their tickets were only to Winnipeg, and they are at present getting information which will determine their future movements. In Russia the Molokans are much more numerous, it is stated, than the Doukhobors.
Photo of Molokans from the Caucasus taken in Los Angeles, California, c. 1905. New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Digital Image ID: 490797.
Despite their initial interest in the Canadian West, the Molokans ultimately moved on; between July and September 1905, they crossed the border into the United States and continued southwest to Los Angeles, California. View border crossing records. The records do not indicate why they chose to depart; perhaps they found the climate too cold and inhospitable; maybe they were discouraged by the Canadian Shield, the region of rocky, hilly, forested land with numerous lake which they observed on their rail journey west to Winnipeg; or perhaps Canadian immigration agents failed to assist them to locate the fertile Prairie farmland where the Doukhobors had settled, further west. Certainly, they had numerous relatives in southern California, and naturally desired to join them. In any case, one can only conjecture what might have been the result if this group of Molokan immigrants had remained in Canada, established a colony, and helped settle the West as pioneer farmers.