small flourish


[ Peter Verigin with his sister and other visitors in Siberia, 1890s, Unknown, UBC Special Collections 27-6 ]


Heretical leaders associated with what would be identified as Doukhoborism emerge in southern Russia.


Archbishop Slavenski Nikifor of Ekaterinoslov province in southern Russia coins the phrase “Dukho-borets” or “Spirit Wrestlers” to refer to those considered to be heretics.


Tsar Alexander I decrees that religious dissenters be isolated. Doukhobors are forcibly relocated to the northern shore of the Black Sea, known to them as the “Milky Waters.” Left on their own in the Milky Waters, they thrive.


Under the reign of Tsar Nicholas I, severe persecution of the Doukhobors resumes. In 1841, they are forced to move from the Milky Waters east to the Caucasus region of southern Russia, bordering Turkey.


June 29: Peter Vasilievich Verigin born in Slavianka, in the Caucasus area of Russia (now Azerbaijan).


On the death of her husband, Lukeria Kalmykova becomes Doukhobor leader. The next two decades are a golden age for the Doukhobors in Russia.


Verigin marries, a marriage annulled about 1881 by Lukeria Kalmykova, who takes Verigin into her household, to train for leadership.


December 15: Lukeria Kalmykova dies, childless. A succession struggle breaks out. Peter Verigin emerges as the choice of the majority of the Doukhobors (the “Large Party”). But Lukeria’s brothers convince Tsarist officials that Verigin represents a menace to the Russian state. He is arrested and banished to northern Russia.


Peter Verigin lives in exile in various parts of northern Russia and Siberia.


June 29: On Verigin’s birthday, Doukhobors of the “Large Party” gather up all their firearms and burn them. The new tsar, Nicholas II, responds with heightened persecution.


October: Russian novelist and pacifist Leo Tolstoy and others begin a campaign to alert the world to the plight of the Doukhobors. Quakers in Britain and North America take up the Doukhobor cause. Professor James Mavor of the University of Toronto contacts the Canadian government on behalf of the Doukhobors. In the next three years the terms of their migration are arranged and the lands they will occupy in the Canadian west are identified.


December 5: A Government of Canada order in council exempts the Doukhobors from military service, clearing the way for them to migrate to Canada.


January 20: The SS. Lake Huron arrives in Halifax, bringing the first of 7500 Doukhobors to Canada.


January: With Verigin still in Russia, the Doukhobor community in the North West Territories (as of 1905, Saskatchewan) struggles to deal with the dilemma of how to live in this new land. As many as one thousand opt to acquire land under the homestead system. They abandon the Doukhobor commune and become known as Independent Doukhobors. The Canadian government advises the Communal Doukhobors that each family must register individually for its 160-acre plot of land, following Dominion Lands Act regulations.


October: Responding to rumors that Verigin is making his way to Canada, 1700 Doukhobors set out to “meet Christ,” tramping over a prairie landscape that is rapidly descending into winter. With great difficulty, the North West Mounted Police corral them and put them on trains back to their settlements.

December 18: Peter Verigin arrives in Canada after 15 years in exile in Russia. Within a short time he begins a relationship with Anna Holubova that will last until his death.


May: 52 Nude Doukhobors parade from village to village attempting to convince their fellows to shun modernization. Outside of the town of Yorkton, Saskatchewan, they are stopped, forcibly dressed and jailed. A small section of this group burns part of a piece of agricultural equipment owned by the Doukhobor commune. Verigin presses charges against them and has them sent to jail. The svododniki, also known as the Sons of Freedom or Freedomite movement among the Doukhobors, is born.


Peter V. Verigin’s divorced wife, Evdokia Grigorevna, and estranged son, Peter Petrovich Verigin, make two brief visits Canada from Russia. His son causes considerable friction and is finally ordered to return to Russia by his father.


August to December: the first government commission of inquiry into the Doukhobors, led by the Reverend John McDougall, concludes that the Doukhobors’ communal land-holding practice is a barrier to their proper integration into Canadian society.


October to February: In the midst of the crisis over land ownership, Verigin leaves for Russia, claiming he is investigating a possible mass return to Russia. Nothing comes of the venture, but Verigin is absent when the Canadian government seizes substantial parts of the land reserved for Doukhobors.


July: Land that has been taken from the Doukhobors is opened to settlement by others, causing an unprecedented land rush in Saskatchewan. Of the 313,000 hectares of land allocated to the Community Doukhobors, they retain only 50,000 hectares. Independent Doukhobors (not in the communal system) and other homesteaders claim the balance.


Seeking to establish a new base for his commune, Verigin visits the Kootenay and Boundary districts of southeastern British Columbia. He purchases over 6000 hectares of land. By buying land, the community is exempt from government laws and regulations such as the need to take the oath of allegiance to the crown stipulated by the Dominion Lands Act.


Over five thousand Community Doukhobors move from Saskatchewan and establish the “second Commune.” Ninety communal villages take root in B.C., complete with orchards, sawmills and the famous Brilliant Jam Factory.


Responding to the growing popular suspicion of these communistic foreigners, the government of British Columbia appoints a commission to investigate the Doukhobors, led by William Blakemore. Blakemore observes that the Doukhobors have been beneficial in helping to develop the Boundary and Kootenay districts between Grand Forks and Nelson. But he also records considerable opposition from neighboring residents. He suggests that the Canadian government end Doukhobors’ exemption from military service and identifies Peter Verigin as the key barrier to assimilating them.


Among the improvements to the southeastern B.C. region completed by the Doukhobors is the Brilliant suspension bridge over the Kootenay River near Brilliant. Doukhobors would argue that they never received proper compensation from the B.C. government for this project, like much other public work they did that added to the province’s wealth.


March: the British Columbia legislature passes the Community Regulations Act. It requires the Doukhobor community to register births, deaths and marriages and also to send children to public schools. Contravening the act may lead to the government seizing the community’s goods, a form of collective punishment that was motivated by the popular belief that Verigin and the community leaders were responsible for the Doukhobor children’s non-attendance at school.

August: following the British declaration of war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, Canada is also at war. Suspicion of “dangerous foreigners,” already present in the pre-war years, grows. Doukhobors are exempt from military service. Verigin tells the Canadian government that Independent Doukhobors, who have left the commune, do not deserve military service exemption.


Verigin’s dom, or community home, at Otradno in Saskatchewan is burned to the ground. Several svobodniki are arrested and jailed for the arson.


Verigin and 13 other members of the Doukhobor elite incorporate the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Limited (CCUB), with capital of $1 million and 5,800 members and Verigin as president. The CCUB holds land in the three western provinces, as well as factories, sawmills and other operations.

March: the tsarist regime in Russia collapses under the weight of the First World War and social unrest. A provisional government is formed that decides to continue the war.

November: the provisional government is ousted by a Bolshevik insurrection led by V.I. Lenin. In the following year, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR, is created.


Reflecting antagonism to pacifists after the end of the war, the BC government bars Doukhobors and other conscientious objectors from voting. The government of Canada prohibits the immigration of Doukhobors, Hutterites and Mennonites. (Repealed for Hutterites and Mennonites in 1921, for Doukhobors in 1926, although almost no Doukhobors arrive in Canada after 1899.)


After several years of complying with the law requiring school attendance, Doukhobor parents begin to withdraw their children from schools in the Boundary and Kootenay districts of B.C. In December eight parents are fined. They pay after police move to seize community property in lieu of payment.


March: a nude demonstration of eleven svobodniki near a Grand Forks school follows the arrest of a Doukhobor for attempted arson at another district school earlier in the month.

April: first arson of a school attended by Doukhobor and non-Doukhobor students. Over the course of the year nine schools mysteriously burn.


January: Verigin purchases land in Oregon with the idea of moving the entire community from southern BC.

April 21: Verigin’s basedka (combined summer house and office) at Brilliant is destroyed by fire. No culprits are found, but svobodniki are suspected.

October 29: Verigin and eight other people are killed in an explosion on Canadian Pacific Railway Car 1586.

October 29–Nov. 1: Coroner’s inquest at Grand Forks into the deaths of John McKie, Peter Verigin, P.J. Campbell and Hakim Singh, killed in explosion.

October 30–November 5: Coroner’s inquest at Nelson into the deaths of Harry J. Bishop, W. J. Armstrong, Neil E. Murray and Marie Strelaeff, killed in explosion.

November 2: Peter Verigin buried at Brilliant.

December 11: A mass meeting of Doukhobors at Brilliant proclaims Peter Petrovich Verigin, also known as Chistiakov (“The Purger” or “The Cleanser”), to be leader of the Canadian Community Doukhobors. Chistiakov is in Russia.


March 1: A crowd of over 800 Doukhobors confronts B.C. Premier John Oliver in Grand Forks over the issue of education and the death of their leader.

April 10: B.C. Provincial Police, aided by a gang of road workers, raid the Doukhobor Community warehouse to seize goods, after individual Doukhobors have refused to pay court fines arising from refusing to send their children to school.

May 3: With the payment of the fines levied on them for failure to send their children to the school, the Doukhobor Community agrees to a truce in its conflict with the province over education.


Dissident members of the Community Doukhobors, led by Anastasia Holobova, separate from the commune and establish their own community in Alberta.


November 4: Peter P. Verigin (Chistiakov) arrives in Canada from the USSR and takes control of the CCUB.


B.C. Provincial Police arrest over 600 Doukhobors, mainly svobodniki, in nude protests on the highway between Nelson and Castlegar. The adults are incarcerated in a special prison on Piers Island, off Vancouver Island. More than 350 of their children are seized and placed in foster homes and orphanages.


The Canadian government illegally attempts to deport Peter P. Verigin from Canada, a move that is halted only on the docks of Halifax by Doukhobor legal action.


The CCUB, whose membership has fallen from 5,500 in 1928 to 3,100 in 1937, is declared bankrupt following foreclosure court action by the Sun Life Assurance Company and the National Trust Company of Canada. The commune’s property is valued at $6 million and it owes just over $300,000. But it has no cash, and in lieu of payment the companies take over the communal properties and issue eviction notices to the Doukhobors.


February 11: Peter P. Verigin (Chistiakov) dies of cancer.

Fearing possible chaos resulting from thousands of Doukhobors being thrown out of their homes, the B.C. government passes the Doukhobor Lands Acquisition Act, which pays the creditors. Thus the B.C. government acquires the communal lands. Doukhobors will live as squatters on publicly-owned land for the next two decades.


Canada is caught up in the Second World War.


June: the federal government orders all men and women over age 16 to register. To skeptical Canadians, Doukhobors included, this looks like the first step to conscription. Many Doukhobors refuse to cooperate, and some are jailed.

John J. Verigin, Peter V. Verigin’s great grandson, is chosen by the Doukhobors as secretary of the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC), the successor organization to Lordly’s Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood.


Determined to make the Doukhobors comply with national registration, the federal government sends an army major to B.C. in 1943. At Brilliant, 3,500 Doukhobors face off against him and declare that they will not register. That night dynamite, gasoline and matches level the Brilliant jam factory, the general store, the meeting hall, the packing plant, a service station and a garage. All had once been part of the Doukhobor commune. Now, as government property, it is a prime target for destruction.


The Sons of Freedom or Freedomites, now a group of some 2000 members, is torn apart by a leadership battle. Widespread arson results, and by 1950, 400 Freedomites are in jail in B.C. A Ukrainian Baptist immigrant named Stefan Sorokin wins leadership of the group. Within two years he has left Canada for Uruguay with close to one hundred thousand dollars collected from his supporters.


Agitation among the Freedomites leads to the arrest and jailing of hundreds of them. Many Freedomite parents refuse to send their children to school, resulting in police seizing 170 Freedomite children. They are forcibly held and educated at the New Denver, B.C, residential school.


For Doukhobors in B.C., the right to vote in both provincial and federal elections is restored.


A renewed campaign of arson and bombing by Freedomites destroys much property of non-Freedomite Doukhobors, the Canadian Pacific Railway and public buildings. Hundreds of Freedomites are arrested and jailed.


B.C. Doukhobors are allowed to buy back their land from the provincial government but only as individuals, not as part of a commune.


Protesting the arrest and jailing of many of their supporters for arson and bombing, Freedomites from the southeastern B.C. town of Krestova trek into Vancouver to raise public awareness of their situation. As a result of human rights-based concern about their treatment by government, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association is launched.


Doukhobors are key organizers of various anti-war and anti-arms race demonstrations in Canada and a 50 000 kilometre Peace and Friendship Caravan International from B.C. to the USSR.


The government of Canada announces a new policy of multiculturalism, intended to recognize and commemorate the diverse ethnic and religious origin of many Canadians.

The Kootenay Doukhobor Historical Society completes the construction of a replica Doukhobor Community Home near Castlegar, B.C.


Official opening of the National Doukhobor Heritage Village in Verigin, Saskatchewan, centred on the dom or community home built for Peter V. Verigin.

Following the 1975 arson destruction of the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ Community Centre in Grand Forks (suspected to have been the work of Freedomites), the USCC opens a new community centre in Grand Forks.


Following 40 years of bombings and arson by Freedomites and others, the government of B.C. convenes the Expanded Kootenay Committee on Intergroup Relations, which brings together representatives of various Doukhobor groups and different government departments and police. The sessions become a collective airing of grievances and long-unsettled frustrations. By the end, suspicions both among Doukhobors and between Doukhobors and the host community still persist, but what had been an intense conflict has been reduced to a simmer.