The Doukhobors at Veregin, Saskatchewan, 1911
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Special thanks to Corinne Postnikoff of Castlegar,
British Columbia for her assistance with the data input of this article.