Multiculturalism and the Rise of a New Spirit

Excerpt from the book: 'Spirit-Wrestlers' Voices', pp. 329-345.
  1. This is a revised and updated version of Koozma J. Tarasoff’s third of three Lansdowne lectures on the Doukhobors at the University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, October 20-22, 1997. The first two were titled ‘Spirit Wrestlers: Early Canadian Pioneers’ and ‘Doukhobors at the Threshold of the Millennium’


    Dean Wood, vice-president Academic of Keyano College in Fort McMurray wrote in a personal essay (Wood, 1994: 29): 

‘… Multiculturalism is central to the common good of Canadians. We will not uphold the core values of our heritage and contemporary society unless we actively seek the mutual respect, cross-cultural communications and acceptance of diversity which are the essence of multiculturalism …’
    The Doukhobors, make up some 40,000 of Canada’s population; they are citizens of Canada and are part of that multicultural mix that Dean Wood wrote about. In this paper I would like to show how the Doukhobors fit in with — or are different from — other groups in Canada’s mosaic. I would especially like to point out those critical fault lines where the multicultural fabric of Canadian society has been tested to the limit and where understanding and mutual respect are key ingredients that ensure legitimate citizenship.

1. Doukhobors and the Old State

    In Tsarist Russia, the Doukhobors arose as a dissident group challenging the authority of the church and state. As heretics they were perceived as dangerous to the dominant society. When both the state and church failed to exterminate them, in 1802 Tsar Alexander I brought them together for the first time into one central area — the Molochnye Vody (Milky Waters) region of the Crimea. Living in village communes, they prospered for several decades as a state within a state. Exiled to Transcaucasia in the 1840s, the pacifist Doukhobors were forced to survive amidst the marauding mountain peoples of what they called as ‘Tatars’. When their soldiers-in-training threw down their firearms on Easter Day 1895, followed by the mass demonstration of weapon-burning in June, a great many Doukhobors (at least one-third their numbers) became subject to persecution. A few years later 7,500 Doukhobors fled to Canada as a ‘persecuted minority’.
    Those who stayed behind in Russia faced the new forces of the revolution and communism. Because they possessed collective attributes, they were at first respected and given exemption from military service in 1919. This policy would not last long for by the 1930s, Stalin’s pogrom against the so-called kulaks(2) included the arrest and deportation to Siberia of many hardworking Doukhobors. The Doukhobors’ reaction to these persecutions is typical of their overall spirit and attitude to life, as illustrated in the following example:
In the Orlovka village of Bogdanovka raion of Transcaucasia, 40 Doukhobors were exiled to Siberia, but only seven were known to have survived (Tarasoff, 1991: 73). One of those who survived twelve years in exile was a family man who had several more sheep than the limit of two dictated by Stalin. In an attempt to save his own skin the man’s nephew had pointed a finger at his uncle. When the uncle returned years later to the same village, the nephew was still there. The man had no hard feelings towards his kin and even lent him some money when asked to do so. ‘Why did you do it?’ asked another relative. ‘Because I felt it was the right thing to do’, the uncle replied.
    Another case is that of Anna Petrovna Markova (born 1902) who spent fifteen years in Siberian exile. When she came to Canada in 1960 to join her son John J. Verigin, she expressed no anger toward her motherland for persecuting her. In her own words (Markova, 1974: 8):

‘I felt no hard feelings toward those who were directly responsible for my misfortunes; I departed with a clear and tranquil conscience, as before God, likewise before the people’.
    In Canada the Doukhobor emigrants found a liberal capitalist state based on a British model, where the ruling class (nearly all of British heritage) tended to relegate all immigrants to the caste-like category of ‘foreign workers’. Promises of free land,  exemption from military service and none interference in education were not always fulfilled to the Doukhobors’ expectations. In fact history was to reveal significantly differing expectations on each side. Stephen Leacock’s inelegant assessment of several groups of immigrants (including the Doukhobors) revealed the temper of the day (Leacock, 1937: 161):
‘The government could hardly eliminate these ‘undigested and indigestible’ lumps in the ethnic stew of the Canadian West, but it could make certain that no special advantages were given them.’
  1. kulak – a member of a wealthier peasant-class accused of exploiting other peasants for their own gain.

2. The Doukhobors Participate in Canada

    The majority of Canadian officials, along with the mainstream Anglo-Saxon population, would ask the question: ‘Will these people assimilate to Canada?’
    The Doukhobors chose another path, saying: ‘We support integration, not assimilation’. Inspired by the world-renowned writer and philosopher Lev N. Tolstoy as well as their own tradition of non-violence, they saw themselves as bearers of a global citizenship. ‘Love is the central beacon of their life’s path’, they said. The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ was taken to heart.
    Upon arriving at the immigration halls in Winnipeg, the new migrants shared their culture with Canadians. They made wooden ladles and gave them to passers-by in gratitude  to Canada for accepting them as new pioneers and giving them hope of becoming boni-fide citizens. The hospitality inherent in their cultural history helped them make friends in Canada — an auspicious start to their new life in this ‘land of opportunity’.

3. Accommodation to modern society

    Not all Doukhobors have accommodated to their new surroundings in the same way however. The rise of three groups within the Doukhobors is a reflection of their differential accommodation to new conditions. Of the 40,000 Doukhobors in Canada, the majority are known as Independents. Generally the least organized, they have quickly adapted to modern times, rejecting inherited charismatic leadership in favour of the tradition of collective leadership, while still preserving their inner integrity.

    The Community Doukhobors, today known as the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC) under Honorary Chairman John J. Verigin, Sr, clung to the spiritual charismatic leadership of Peter V. Verigin, the leader who was finally released from exile in Siberia in 1902 and permitted to join the Doukhobors in Canada. While this group is the most organized and the wealthiest in terms of corporate property, their official paid membership is barely 1000. They consider themselves the ‘real’ Doukhobors, in contrast to the Independents, who are seen as having ‘sold out’ to the government.

    Even more radical is a fringe zealot group known earlier as the ‘Sons of Freedom’ (or alternatively as Freedomites, Wanderers, Pilgrims, or Sons of God) considered untrustworthy (if not outright criminals) by other Doukhobors. The zealots see themselves as the true followers of God’s laws, the ‘bell ringers’ of society, and seek to return to the earlier traditions of a more simple life, free from both horses and machines. In terms of numbers the group is practically negligible, though still observable of the Western Canadian landscape.
     Finding difficulty in understanding these peculiar Russian immigrants and their behaviour, the Canadian public revealed an often hidden intolerance of diversity by calling for rational, legalistic regulations to enforce assimilation, appealing to ‘the rule of law’ to compel conformity to its own historical models.

    The media contributed to the over-reaction by exploiting the actions of the zealots and tarring all Doukhobors with the brush of sensationalism. In time, the zealots saw an opportunity to use this publicity for their own interests — at the expense of the movement as a wholeThe vast majority of the Doukhobors felt deeply hurt at being branded nudists and criminals by misidentification with the zealots.

4. Canadian Multiculturalism Policy (197l) and Act (1988)

    The 1971 Multicultural Policy and the 1988 Multicultural Act aimed to reflect tolerance of diversity in Canada by going beyond two official languages and cultures. The Doukhobors considered this new trend of cultural maturity beneficial not only for them but for all Canadian citizens as well as for all Canadians of whatever ethnic background. Most Doukhobors are proud to be Canadians and are also proud of their Russian heritage. They think of themselves as bridge-builders — a synthesis between liberal individual rights and collective community rights. Hence they embrace multiculturalism as the way of the future.
    Yet it is a fact that core values in a multicultural society (a ‘social family’, so to speak) may sometimes be in conflict: ‘fault lines’ appear — certain issues on which people from opposite sides of the cross-cultural axis do not see eye to eye. Mutual respect and acceptance is needed for the family to stay together. Several fault lines can be identified: military service, land ownership, the oath-of-allegiance clause, public school education, heritage language and culture, as well as the co-operative ethic and communal structure. Let us examine these ‘fault lines’ or crisis points, each of which may offer new insights into relations between the Doukhobors and their fellow Canadians of other backgrounds.

     4.1. Military service and the oath of allegiance

    Military service and the oath of allegiance to a ruling monarch was as offensive to Doukkhobors in Canada as it had been in Tsarist Russia. They are internationalists and cosmopolitans at heart — people who refuse to think themselves as defined by geographical location, ancestry, citizenship or language, although in practice, some compromise is required for survival in a multicultural setting — a balance of continuity and change which will ensure a stable group cohesion.
    The Doukhobors’ long pacifist tradition directly conflicts with the more prevalent beliefs that might is right, that conflicts are best resolved through military force, and that military service is a pragmatic means of promoting ‘manhood’.

    In 1932 the Royal Canadian Legion petitioned the federal government to prohibit all Doukhobors from becoming registered owners of any property outside the areas already set aside for their use (Lanthier and Wong, 1966).
    In both World Wars, more than 95 percent of the eligible Doukhobor men in Canada refused to join the military. They were jailed, did alternative work on roads or in the bush, made donations to the Red Cross,(3) or somehow managed to otherwise ignore the whole rotten disease of war. Distinguished lawyer and civil libertarian Peter G. Makaroff ‘turned the other cheek’ in a Municipal Council chamber in Saskatoon (and was slapped in the face by an alderman) when he supported  CCF leader J.S. Woodsworth’s lone call in Parliament for Canada not to participate in World War II.(4)

    Later during the Cold War period the Doukhobors were subjected to discrimination as a ‘Russian collective group’ and therefore a potentially ‘subversive presence’ in Canada. A number of Doukhobors reported hiding in their own communities from the critical eyes of the authorities. Many, sceptical of politics and the whole political process, ceased to vote in elections altogether.(5)
    For the past fifty years the Canadian Doukhobors have been actively working with other peace groups in holding disarmament and peace and disarmament demonstrations — opposing the atomic bomb, the cruise missile, the Distant Defense Warning Line, biological and radiological weapons, and military training in schools and universities. A committed pacifist, Peter Makaroff actively participated in and promoted these peace events in the 1960s. Before he died in 1970, he established an annual World Federalist Peace Prize of $500, open to any student or faculty member in any Canadian university, ‘for the best annual essay relating to world peace through world law’(Robertson/Stromberg, 1996: 5).
To this day, Doukhobors maintain a deep aversion to war and violence. To them (as to many others) the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 was an uncivilized act that threatened our planet. In 1997 they proclaimed Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy a courageous hero for spearheading an international campaign to ban land mines around the world.
    The Doukhobors’ opposition to war, fully shared by writer Lev Tolstoy, and their conviction that non-violence is the only rational way of the future — is a deep-rooted value that flies in the face of the so-called ‘military industrial complex’. To them the overall deterioration of health and social programmes is directly tied to the armed services’ addiction to expensive and uncivilized military solutions. For pacifist activists such as the Doukhobors, the right to live is something to be taught by example, while the state-sanctioned slaughter of fellow human beings is the very antithesis of love and universal brotherhood.
  1. In mid-November 1943 a delegation of both Independent and Community Doukhobors met with officials in Ottawa to discuss exemption from military service. In an effort to recognize the Doukhobors’ historical claims while still assuring the public that this group was making ‘a contribution to the welfare of Canada’ (Janzen, 1990: 235) and not detracting from the general war effort, the government offered exemption from military service on the condition that the Doukhobors either (a) stay on their farms or in their current jobs and make monthly donations to the Red Cross. William Janszen (244) further notes: ‘In summary, then, the social climate, the contribution of the conscientious objectors through the alternative-service program, the government’ commitment to honour the historic promises of exemption, the persistent lobbeying by leaders of these groups, and the flexibility of the political system all help to explain why, despite numerous problems, these groups, and the flexibility of the political system all help to explain why, despite numerous problems, these groups [the Doukhobors, Mennonites, Hutterites, etc.] were permitted to enjoy a relatively broad freedom during the Second World War’.
  2. Makaroff was known for his determined efforts on behalf of labour and persecuted minorities during the Great Depression. Born in Kars, Russia, he came to Canada with the 1899 migration, settling on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River north-east of Saskatoon. Educated first by the Quakers in Philadelphia, he then attended Rosthern Academy and later the University of Saskatchewan, where he obtained a B.A. in 1915 and a Bachelor of Laws in 1918. He became the first Doukhobor in the world to receive a university degree and enter a profession. A close friend and kindred spirit to pacifist J.S. Woodsworth, founder of the social-democratic Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), he stood for the CCF twice: first in the Saskatchewan provincial election in 1934 in the riding of Shellbrook and later in the Rosthern riding in the 1940 federal election (Stromberg Web Page, 1965: 5).
  3. The USCC in its Declaration states that its members are above party politics and therefore should abstain from voting; in reality, however, most members have voted in recent elections

    4.2. Land ownership

    On this point Doukhobors fully shared the view of Tolstoy and other philosophers, as well as Canadian native peoples: land is a divine gift to be used by humanity but not to be bought or sold. The old Russian mir or commune system had embraced land as a common resource to be used by those working on it.
    When the Russian Doukhobors arrived in Canada they (as with the Mennonites) were allowed to settle in hamlets and work land in common around the villages. But with an rapid influx of new settlers and a new electorate, the government soon changed its policy and restricted the ‘free’ allotment of one quarter-section (160 acres = 65 ha) to individual homesteaders who confirmed the truthfulness of the Homestead Application by swearing (or affirming) the truth of the transaction, and who would agree to cultivate their own land and eventually intend to become a Canadian citizen (including the knowledge that citizenship may mean possible swearing an oath of allegiance to the Crown).

    Some Doukhobors reluctantly accepted the former provision of swearing the truth, but were able to take advantage of a legal practice that the government had earlier offered Mennonite settlers in Manitoba; they were allowed to fulfill their application in favour of simply ‘affirming the truth’ before the presiding official. These were the Independent Doukhobors, who were the first to allow their children to be educated in the Canadian system, and hence the first to gain entry into the professions, as early as their second decade in their new land.
    (However, what many Doukhobors were not aware of was that the provision of the oath did not appear on the Homestead forms until 1908 when the Hamlet Clause (Sections 121 and 122) was repealed. At the same time that year Frank Oliver the new Minister of the Interior who was prejudiced to all Slavs introduced an amendment to the homestead entry to require an oath of Intent to become a Canadian citizen. Indeed, while the oath was a scary entity for the Russian Doukhobors who refused to support the Tsar, in effect, during the first years of settlement on the Canadian prairies, the oath clause was used by the Doukhobor leader more as a scare tactic to control his members so they would follow him.)

    Other Doukhobors were too steeped in their earlier habits of the mir system to give up communal ownership. Organized as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) under the leadership of Peter V. Verigin, in 1907-08 these Community Doukhobors gave up millions of dollars worth of property on the Canadian prairies to trek hundreds of kilometres westward to British Columbia. Here they could purchase land privately and avoid the restrictions of the Homestead Act, including acquiring citizenship and eventually facing the oath-of-allegiance question. In 1938, however, the CCUB’s six-million-dollar collective enterprise fell prey to the general Depression and, when the provincial government withdrew their support, came to an abrupt end. For more than twenty years its members were forced to live as squatters on their own land. Eventually, in 1961, the land was sold back to them, notwithstanding their earlier objection to private ownership.
    Some Community Doukhobors, however, refused to accept this new arrangement, fearing it would only lead to total assimilation and the loss of inner integrity.(6) Opposed to materialism and to accommodation with any political structure, they identified with the breakaway zealot ‘Sons of Freedom’ group, deciding to live in a wilderness community they called the ‘New Settlement’(7) — in effect, a self-proclaimed ‘state within a state’ — and refusing to pay either federal or provincial taxes. Some zealots went from village to village trying to recruit support for their ideas. Others even turned to nudity and violence to promulgate their ideas, first burning the canvas of a grain-harvesting binder and later setting fire to the residence of a community leader. Several bombings and burnings followed erratically, often without the specific culprits being identified. The vast majority of Doukhobors, however, by nature a peaceful lot, saw this behaviour as uncivilized, and a threat to their self-image and cultural prosperity.

    It was not until the 1990s that a humanities student at the University of Victoria, a non-Doukhobor by the name of Charles Ball, recognizing some legitimacy in the zealots’ wishes to lead their own way of life, took it upon himself to act as an intermediary between them and the government. Through his efforts a Memorandum of Understanding was drawn up in 1995 between the New Settlement and the B.C. Government, whereby zealots were allowed to continue their collective lifestyle and perform community service (such as road construction) in lieu of taxes. Their communal land was to be held in trust by a society (under Ball’s chairmanship) known as the Reformed Sons of Freedom Communal Doukhobors. Their numbers, however, are dwindling, as many zealots have opted to pay taxes for government services, and with exposure to new technologies, television, computers and education (Tarasoff & Kristova, 1995: 83), even some of the younger members have decided to leave the hold-out group and integrate themselves into the larger Canadian society.(8)
  1. This was the view held by zealot Mike Chernenkoff, who sees himself and his fellow zealots as revolutionaries: ‘They are an advance party with the role of accomplishing a mission for the Doukhobors…to prevent the assimilation of the core ideas’, who cannot compromise in purchasing land or paying taxes (Tarasoff & Kristova, 1995: 77-78).
  2. Formed in 1972, the ‘New Settlement’ (Russian: Novaia Poselka) was located in an idyllic wilderness setting near the village of Krestova, between Nelson and Castlegar.
  3. Mike Chernenkoff himself now uses a computer (operated on batteries, since the community still does not accept electrification), as does his self-educated Krestova neighbour Steve Lapshinoff, who is now publishing Doukhobor historical materials from his home base.

    4.3. Public education, registration of births, marriages and deaths

    In Saskatchewan, Independent Doukhobors saw education as the way to adapt to the new land. As the first lawyer of non-Anglo-Saxon origin to graduate from the University of Saskatchewan in 1918, Peter G. Makaroff set an example for many Independent Doukhobors who became professional doctors, engineers, nurses, and educators, as well as agronomists. These people went through local school boards with limited difficulty because Saskatchewan allowed ethnic minorities (including the Doukhobors) to have a voice on local school boards. Problem areas such as military training were generally dealt with sensitively.
    Doukhobors faced a different situation in British Columbia, where local school boards were selected by the ministry of education in Victoria, often excluding local minority representation. Utterly confounded by the Doukhobors’ opposition to saluting the flag, doing military exercises, learning the value of patriotism, not to mention regularly attending public school, registering for births, marriages and deaths, the government of the day chose to enforce conformity through legislation: in 1914 it created the Community Regulations Act, which had the effect of punishing the whole Community for infractions of the act on the part of individual members.
    In September 1915 a temporary compromise was reached when the B.C. attorney-general promised a delegation of Doukhobors that no military training would be forced upon their children and that they would be excused from religious exercises in the public schools. However, following World War II, these accords were put under strain as the government, under pressure to find lands for returning soldiers, attempted to take communal lands away from the Doukhobors. Some parents responded by taking their children out of school

    A new school inspector E.G. Daniels took countermeasures in the form of fines (Janzen, 90: 130): in April 1923 fines of $50 each were levied on six parents. When they were slow in paying, the B.C. government seized CCUB property, including a large truck that was used for farm work, which was not returned until the Community paid the fine. When all nine schools that the Doukhobors had built for their children were burnt to the ground, possibly by some radical members (a very small minority), the government again used its Community Regulations Act to blame the Community rather than go after the individual culprits — a policy it continued to follow for many more years to come. This in spite of public declarations by Verigin and other Community leaders that the Community as a whole had nothing to do with the burnings and that many of their children were still attending school.

    4.4. Heritage language and culture

    One hundred years after leaving their homeland, one of the Doukhobors’ prominent concerns is how the Russian language, the linguistic expression of their heritage for over three centuries, will survive in the next century. Some fear that if it is not maintained the Doukhobor movement itself will die. Parents have sent their children to both day and evening Russian classes (day classes have been held in the Grand Forks and Castlegar districts since 1975 under a federal Multiculturalism programme). Young Doukhobors have been encouraged to travel to Russia and enroll in Russian universities (an opportunity that over the past three decades has been taken advantage of by more than 150 Canadian Doukhobors with the assistance of the Russian Rodina Society).
    Some see a more radical solution still, namely, making a permanent move back to Russia. According to one USCC member Mary Shukin of Nelson, B.C. (Tarasoff & Kristova, 1995: 57):
    ‘We are losing our traditions here. We used to have many more singers before. Youth now speak English in school. They intermarry. We want them to speak Russian at home … In Nelson we went to a neighbour’s place; they said: “Our dog eats meat, but does not speak Russian”. Many speak of migrating back to Russia because it was so prophesized by Lukeria Kalmykova that a small group would return … I fear that we will lose the Russian language. If we lose Russian, we will lose our Doukhoborism. Already Saskatchewan Doukhobors have translated some psalms into English. You can’t do that!’
    Along with Russian language, a prominent part of the culture, at least of the Community Doukhobors, is a cappella singing, which is intimately connected to their beliefs, attitudes and way of life. By illustration, choir leader and singer Bill Kootnekoff says (Tarasoff & Kristova, 1995: 70):

    ‘In our organization [USCC], we do not accept [written] music. We believe that would harm our live singing. We strive to remember by heart — so that our voices would remain harmonious. That is why we do not need music. Our singing is live; it comes from the heart … We strive for harmony’.

    4.5. Co-operative ethic and communal structure

    The Doukhobor co-operative ethic and communal structure is designed to provide equality and access to the goods and services of a normally functioning society. Unlike the profit-oriented free enterprise system, where the emphasis is on making money rather than redistributing it to others, profit plays a role in the co-operative, but not at the expense of its members or of society at large.

    Through their incorporated Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB), the communal Doukhobors initiated a wide array of business ventures, including agricultural projects, lumbering, sawmill operations, brick factories, machine shops, food processing and retail stores.(9) The rapid growth of these enterprises attested to the significant communal profits that could be quickly derived from co-operative ventures. Under pressure  from neighbours, however, who saw such enterprises as a threat to their own livelihood, politicians sought measures to curb the growth of this trend, including abolishing Doukhobors’ rights to communal land (see 4.2 above).

    The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 gave the Canadian government a ready excuse to deport certain Slavs, Finns and Jews they considered potential communist troublemakers (McLaren, 1995: 113). As a communal Russian-speaking group, the Doukhobors came under particular suspicion and surveillance almost as soon as they arrived in Canada (see also 4.1 above). From 1919 to 1926 further Doukhobor immigration was under Canadian law. In 1933 there was an unsuccessful attempt to deport their leader Peter P. Verigin (see McLaren, 1995).

    However, over the years the co-operative principle underlying the Doukhobor philosophy has managed to leave its mark on at least some private enterprise ventures. A prime example is the home industry of co-opertative games developed by Jim Deacove in 1971 which promotes the co-operative spirit not only in its product but in the very nature of its business operation.(10) It is a hopeful sign that co-operation, rather than competition, will yet become the guiding principle of business in the twenty-first century.
  1. On this point see Peter Podovinikoff’s paper in this volume
  2. See Jim Deacove’s paper in this volume for a description: 'The Spirit of co-operation in a competitive society', pp. 183-197, in Spirit-Wrestlers' Voices edited and compiled by Koozma J. Tarasoff.

5. Liberal democracy and multiculturalism

     Law professor Dr. John McLaren has shown that for most of the 20th Century, social and legal policy towards communal groups within the fabric of Canadian social policy has been ‘notable for its lack of imagination and accommodation and for its propensity to force conformity and assimilation in a crude and capricious manner’ (McLaren, 95: 110). We have already seen this with the communal land confiscation of 1907, the Community Regulations Act of 1914 which held the Community collectively liable for its individual members’ actions, and the B.C. government’s complete withdrawal of support for communal enterprises in 1938.

     Multiculturalism is a form of pluralism in society. A healthy liberal society needs a good dose of cultural interaction and blending in order for its citizens to learn to tolerate diversity. It needs to learn that different styles of life do not normally harm society, but contribute to its creativity, development and renewal. Lessons from groups such as Doukhobors, Hutterites, Mennonites and Quakers help benefit and enrich the nation as a whole.
    Anthropologists have shown that a healthy dynamic society requires both continuity (based on custom and tradition) and change (adaptability). When small islands of peoples are not involved in the normal societal process of development, solitudes tend to arise, often resulting in inter-group discrimination and disorder.
    Journalist Bill Koreluik has noticed a positive societal change in Saskatchewan (Tarasoff & Kristova, 1995: 107). He contrasts the negative attitudes toward the radical Doukhobor ‘Freedomites’ (extended, by ignorance, to the Doukhobors as a whole) portrayed in a 1908 issue of the Kamsack Times, for example, with the near-universal acceptance of the group by Canadian society today: many years of peaceful inter-group contact, co-existence and integration have erased virtually all trace of the old mistrust and hostility.
    Another example comes from the Castlegar district of British Columbia. Tammy Verigin talks about the process of acceptance and belonging (Tarasoff & Kristova, 1995: 52):
    ‘When I was growing up in Castlegar, it was a hard time being a Doukhobor. I remember when I used to go to Sunday School on Sunday. If we say any of our friends, we used to hide. We had to hide our platoks [kerchiefs]. We were afraid our friends would see us … I loved what happened when we got to the Dom [Community Home]. But I didn’t want my friends to see me in a platok … Everything my parents taught me … I didn’t really go away from it self-consciously. But I did when I moved away to Vancouver. I found the more people asked me about it and I explained about it, the more I realized the kind of lifestyle I lead is very much a Doukhobor lifestyle. I become more and more proud of it as I got older. When I came back to the Kootenay area, I became involved in Mom and Dad’s Doukhobor Heritage Retreat project. I find that whenever there is a Doukhobor event, not only myself but my partner is very interested in the Doukhobor faith. He comes along. I just become more and more involved and proud of my past too.’

6. The Rise of the ‘New Spirit’

    For the past decade Professor John Friesen has taught a course on multiculturalism — including the Doukhobors — at the University of Calgary. He recalls visiting Doukhobors in their B.C. community of Brilliant during his childhood days in nearby Trail. At the 1995 Doukhobor Centenary of the Burning of Arms, he stated (Tarasoff & Kristova, 1995: 35):
‘My own roots are deep. My grandfather was a Mennonite lay preacher … I am very pleased that the image of the Doukhobors in literature is really being promoted in a more public way … as many Doukhobors are rising up from the inside … They really tell the story from inside, from the heart.’
    He then added that an adaptability to change is required to ensure continuity (ibid.):  

‘Ask not what the USCC or the Canadian Doukhobor Society can do for you, but what you can do as an individual. What will be the spark to keep Toil and Peaceful Life and love of brotherhood going as individuals to commune together, to go forth and carry the message individually? My students hear this. They are amazed that such people could exist.’
    One recent change affecting Doukhobor society has been the computer revolution, especially the Internet. Doukhobors have been included not only in the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s displays but also in its website, with a whole web page on the Doukhobors complete with images and sounds.(11) Some Doukhobors have set up their own home pages, — for example the DoukhoborHome Page(12) and the Canadian Doukhobor Society Gateway Website.(13) The Canadian Museum of Civilization, in officially recognizing the Doukhobors in its exhibit, also set up a professional Web Page on the Doukhobors complete with images and sounds. Other Doukhobors have been inspired to set up their own Home Page, including one that is a collective effort of many groups in western Canada. The initial inspiration came from Andrew Conovaloff of Arizona, USA, who is a Molokan who visited Canada in the mid-1990s and shared his knowledge of the Internet with the Doukhobors. See his site: Molokans Around the World. Also see Jon Kalmakoff's extensive Doukhobor Genealogy Links page.
    The 1995 Arms-Burning Centenary released a new spirit of involvement. As part of the celebrations, a Centennial Choir of 65 participants from all Doukhobor groups toured the country before going abroad to New York and Russia. When Jeanette Derksen was asked why she joined the Voices for Peace choir tour, she replied (Tarasoff & Kristova, 1995: 54):

‘To awaken mankind. We are all singing the same songs, only in different languages. It’s my hope and my dream that we will be part of humanity making the turn and creating a more peaceful and better world in which to live.’
    Another choir member, Alex Kalesnikoff, has been active in reviving the Doukhobor movement in Calgary. He also took a personal interest in sponsoring several Russian Doukhobor visitors to Canada. He says that not only can we preserve our tradition, culture, language and identity, we can even enhance it (Tarasoff & Kristova, 1995: 54):
‘Many of us are in the business world. I think we should get more politically involved because we will then have that inner voice within government — and I think it does play a part as with the Native people.’
    Orator Norm Rebin echoed the call for political involvement in society both as individuals and as a collective body (Tarasoff & Kristova, 1995: 47):

‘By being part of the game, we can introduce legislation … options and alternatives. This is an age of co-venture, co-working, men working with women, a child working with father, son and father works on a business together, mother and granddaughter owning a business together. If they can co-venture, surely we can now take the message out and co-venture with all the groups that have a common belief with us.’
    Max Zbitnoff created a T-shirt in honour of the arms-burning centenary. His brother and two sisters joined the celebrations in Canada and they promise to do the same for the 99 Centenary of the Doukhobor emigration to Canada. Max’s father, who was born in Canada, became a prominent doctor with an interest in genealogy and photography.
    For three months in 1995 Russian artist Volodia Gubanov from the Doukhobor community of Bogdanovka in the Caucasus, was a guest of the Canadian Doukhobors. The several dozen portraits he executed in Canada are a first step toward creating a large collage portraying Doukhobors of the world. He describes his dream as follows (Tarasoff & Kristova, 1995: 63):

‘I would like to establish a Russian Doukhobor Centre in Verigin, Saskatchewan. Also in Moscow and Tula [near Tolstoy’s Yasnaya Polyana]. I see a need for a Doukhobor Centre — a place to stay, a place to learn the Russian language … I see a place where some rebirth could take place.’   [In  2005, the Yasnaya Polyan Bakery Café was opened in Tula, Russia.]

For the 1995 Centenary, Volodia painted a philosophical scene of the arms burning and used it to illustrate a calendar which he made for the occasion.
  1. [old URL]— the Canadian Museum of Civilization/Doukhobor Website, a site complete with a visual walking tour of the CMC Doukhobor exhibit and sound clips of their singing. This was the first full web site on the Doukhobors and was designed to complement the museum’s Spirit Wrestlers/Doukhobor exhibit which opened in January 1996. [New URL:]
  2. [No longer working] — the Doukhobor Home Page. Organized by Ryan Androsoff of Saskatoon and supported by several groups and individuals: the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, the Doukhobor Cultural Society of Saskatchewan, the Saskatoon Doukhobor Society and Jon-Lee Kootnekoff. It gives links to other Doukhobor websites. [The site has ceased to exist in 2005 because Ryan has instead pursued a political career.]
  3. [Old URL] —The CDS Gateway Website, produced in British Columbia as a co-operative by the Canadian Doukhobor Society as an independent voice of Doukhobor thinking, is edited by Larry Ewashen. Its webmaster John J. Semenoff regularly updates the extensive site and provides links not only to other Doukhobor sites but also to sites on Tolstoy, the Quakers, Mennonites and Molokans, United Nations and various peace organizations. [This site was moved in 1999 to:  but has not been updated since.]

Summary and Conclusion

    Canadian Doukhobors are part of the world body which has survived for more than three centuries under tsarism, communism and capitalism. In the process of survival they have had to compromise in order to share and promote their central message of love and universal brotherhood. Most of these compromises have touched one of several ‘fault lines’ or crisis points: military service, land ownership, public school education, heritage language & culture and the co-operative communal ethic.
     Multiculturalism and changing times have given Doukhobors a new opportunity to express themselves and be counted. The 1995 and 1999 Centenaries have provided the occasion for new interests and creative energies to appear. Recognition by institutions such as the Canadian Museum of Civilization have made them feel at home in their adopted country, while Heritage Canada has helped them understand themselves by funding some of their efforts. Peter Gzowski’s interview with the Doukhobors in January 1996(14) was an example of a genuine attempt on the part of the media to discover the Doukhobors on the occasion of the arms-burning Centenary. The publication of celebratory books and journals (Tarasoff and Klymasz, 1995; Canadian Ethnic Studies, 1995) has provided an additional opportunity to spread the Doukhobor spirit to public at large. Still another important sign of societal accommodation was the University of Victoria’s selection of a Doukhobor as their 1997 Lansdowne lecturer (see footnote 1 above). This new spirit of recognition and participation indeed bodes well for the future of the Doukhobors and their unique role in the Canadian multicultural fabric.
  1. Peter Gzowski on Morningside (CBC Radio One): interview with Koozma Tarasoff and John Woodsworth, 12 January 1996.


Canadian Ethnic Studies (1995). Special Issue: From Russia With Love: The Doukhobors. Compiled and edited by Koozma J. Tarasoff. Calgary, Alberta, vol. XXVII, No. 3, 95, 303 pp.

Canadian Museum of Civilization (1997). The Doukhobors: Spirit Wrestlers. Cdn Mus. of Civilization Web Page. Internet address: [Old URL]
[New URL: ]

Deacove, Jim (1997). Family Pastimes: Catalogue of Co-operative Games. Created by Jim Deacove, Perth, Ontario. Internet address:

Janzen, William (1990). The experience of Mennonite, Hutterite, and Doukhobor communities in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

McLaren, John. (1995). ‘Wrestling Spirits: the strange case of Peter Verigin II’. Canadian Ethnic Studies, vol. XXVII, no. 3, 1995: 95-130.

Lanthier, Mario and Lloyd L. Wong (1996). Chapter V, The Doukhobors: 1930s - 1950s, in Ethnic Agricultural Labour in the Okanagan Valley: 1880s to 1960s.

Leacock, Stephen (1937). My Memory of the West. New York: Cushman & Flint.

Markova, Anna Petrovna (1974). ‘An Interview with Anna Petrovna Markova’. Mir (Grand Forks, B.C.), vol. 1, no. 7-10, February 1974.

Robertson/ Stromberg (1996). ‘Peter G. Makaroff, KC. 1894-1970’ (Firm History). Robertson Stromberg Web Page. Internet address: [Old URL]
[New URL:]

Tarasoff, Koozma J. (1982). Plakun Trava: The Doukhobors. Grand Forks, B.C.: Mir Publications Society.

Tarasoff, Koozma J. (1991). Notes on the Doukhobor expedition to the USSR (Aug. 1991), unpublished.

Tarasoff, Koozma J. and Robert B. Klymasz (editors) (1995). Spirit Wrestlers: Centennial Papers in Honour of Canada’s Doukhobor Heritage. Ottawa: Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Tarasoff, Koozma J. and Kristina Kristova (1995). Photo Shot Log on the Doukhobors (undertaken as part of the 1995 Burning of Arms Centenary, May-August 1995), unpublished.
Wood, Dean (1994). ‘Multiculturalism Toward the Year 2000’. Multicultural Education Journal  (Edmonton, Alberta), vol. 12, no.2 (Autumn 1994): 21-29.