The Doukhobors were just like any other immigrant that came to Canada and were seeking some sort of Utopia. But, one might say they rivaled the Amish in their traditions.
As a traditional peace group and social movement, Canadian Doukhobors have generally maintained an absolutist stance in relation to war and peace. Their history of persecution, the burning of guns, and their close association to the international Russian philosopher and writer Lev N. Tolstoy have given them almost genetic-like qualities of opposing the institution of militarism and war. In essence, Doukhobors are classic conscientious objectors to military service.
The second act literally shook the world. It took place midnight June 28-29 (Old Style; New Style is 11-12 July) 1895 in three settlements of Transcaucasia (between the Caspian and Black Seas) when 7000 Doukhobors simultaneously set ablaze their rifles, pistols and swords in the first mass protest in history against war and militarism. What a spectacle this was! What a dilemma for the authorities! The reaction was swift and predictable with severe beatings, floggings and exile. To go against the church and the state was treasonous. [Also see: Doukhobor Peace Day]
Thanks to the assistance of world-renowned writer Lev N. Tolstoy along with Russian intellectuals and the Society of Friends (Quakers), the more persecuted Doukhobors were saved the fate of extinction. In 1899, some 7,500 of these Russian pacifists were exiled to Canada (including my grandfather and grandmother) and approximately 40,000 of their offspring reside here to this day. A similar number reside in Russia and about 500 in the USA. Annually Doukhobors continue to commemorate the 1895 acts as heroic, pioneering, and as one of the most viable alternatives to the creation of a nonkilling society. Their mentor Tolstoy was not only against war, but was absolutely against alternative service. He emphasized personal experience and felt that people ought to cease cooperating with the entire process of waging wars. —Spirit Wrestler
In a way to calm Canadian nerves local newspapers like the Almonte Gazette published a piece in 1910 when The Doukhobors stepped off the train in Carleton Place for a few hours.
In Veregin, SK. where the Doukhobors are settling, the village was named after the Doukhobor leaser and it is close to the railroad tracks that they arrived on. The villages have buildings that are neat, clean and picturesque. Each one has a meeting house, and cleanliness being next to godliness each village has a public bath house where every citizen is expected to take a Russian bath (something like a Turkish bath) once a week. They are an organized community with agricultural implements, horse, cattle, dairy, bakery and store owned collectively.
The project of their villages is socialized labour and money is apportioned among the families according to several needs. When men go outside their colonies to work for wages they put their money into a common fund of the village. No money is used in the villages, nor is there any use– for all families according to their size get their bread, milk, vegetables, clothes and other supplies without money from the communal bakery dairy and stores. There there flour mills, sawmills, flax mills, brickyards and other industrial plants which with the products are the common property of the Soukhobors.
Under the Homestead Laws any genuine settler on government land above 18 years of age in the course of three years can become owner of a quarter section, that is to say 160 acres the quarter of a square mile. But the Dukhobors were unwilling to take an oath of alliegance to King Edward which is required of all homesteaders. After prolonged negotitations they declined to take the oath and thus forefetied the titles that would have been theirs had they conformed.
The Canadian government of its grace and during its pleasure, allows them the use of land at a rate of fifteen acres per head of their population and this is quite enough for their subsistence. But, the 160 acres per adult man and youth above 18 years old which might have also belonged to them have been foregone. In the end they forfeited, and amounts to about 480,000 acres the value of which is nearly a million sterling.
In 1911 in the Almonte Gazette in an article written by Aubrey Fullerton from the Globe had a different tone. Fullerton was noted there was not a dollar’s worth of hardware in their structures- even the door was laced and woven of twigs and swung on homemade hinges. Wheat straw roofs were 10 inches thick and that they were said to be quite geniuses of constructions.
But Fullerton said the homes were not aesthetic as there was an awful flavour of garlic about them, and admitted English people can only take on small doses. The journalist also reported that most of the women have been sent back to the home from the fields. The Doukhobors have finally agreed to use horses. Formerly, they believed it was unscriptural to work these animals and the women instead acted as the beasts of burden. Eighteen women were needed to take place of a team. Thankfully, their objections to the use of animals as servants of man have been overcome and the women are now spared field work.
Photo from the files of the Carleton Place Canadian –Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum-originally came from the Shane Edwards family.
The Svobodniki generally refused to send their children to school; the governments of Saskatchewan and later British Columbia would soon charge many of the parents for not sending the children to school. Between 1953 and 1959, roughly 200 Doukhobor children, aged 7–15 year old were seized by the B.C. Government, the RCMP and the Federal Government. These children were confined in New Denver, B.C. in a prison-like setting. These Sons of Freedom children experienced a loss of their human rights throughout their improper imprisonment by the B.C. Government, this is what is known as “Operation Snatch”. The following is a timelines of the actions that were taken leading up to, during and after the confinement of these children.
- September 9, 1953. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrests 148 adults for parading nude near a school; they are placed on a train, taken to Vancouver convicted and sentenced to terms in the Oakalla prison.
- 104 children are taken by bus to a residential school in New Denver.
- January 18, 1955. The RCMP put “Operation Krestova,” into action and raided the Village of Krestova.
- Operation Krestova is declared a success as 70 policemen went in and removed 40 children from their homes. The number of children in the New Denver school is increased to 72.
- The Department of Health would only approve a maximum of 45-50 children.
- 1955. The government considers applying the Protection of Children Act to the Sons of Freedom children. This would allow the children to be held in New Denver until they reached 18 years old, for being truant from school.
- January 6, 1956. Five members of the RCMP sent searching for truant children pursuant to a search warrant.
- May 1956. It is recommended that family visits to the school were to be reduced to one hour, once every three months and to only two family members were to be present in the Dorm.
- July 1956. The second director takes over as head of New Denver school, a fence is put up around the grounds. Visits with parents are conducted through the fence as RCMP patrol the grounds during the visits.
- 1956: Doukhobors in B.C. regain the right to vote in provincial and federal elections.
- 1958. 1 Sons of Freedom killed by own bomb
- July 31, 1959. Parents compelled to swear an oath in court before the magistrate, undertaking to send their children to school.
- August 2, 1959. A special day for the children of New Denver; the remaining 77 children in New Denver are released.