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Writer in Regina Leader Considers the Question Doubtful


For Quarter of Century Held People in Hard Testing Time

Peter Verigin, one of the most re- markable figures in modem Russian history and also of the history of de- velopment in Saskatchewan where the Doukhobors whom he led became known as the most thrifty settlers, turning vast acreage of prairie into some of the most fertile wheat pro- ducing land of the province, is no more, says a writer in the Regina Leader.

With his going the question of a successor who will be able to lead the chosen people of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, looms up as a serious problem.

Verigin was born in Trans-Cau- casia in 1850, and from his early youth displayed radical tendencies particularly against the autocratic government. As early as 1885 he was leading Doukhobors in rebellion against military service, with the re- sult that he was exiled to Siberia.

From his home there in Tobolsk, he directed their policy, counselled and advised them, maintaining communi- cation with the Doukhobor commu- nity by means of trusty messengers who traveled in sleighs 2,000 miles to reach their leader. From his place of exile Verigin advised, and, by his personal appeal to the Dowager Em- press Alexandra, ultimately secured the permission of the czar for the Doukhobors to emigrate to Saskatch- ewan. The first party arrived there and settled near Yorkton in 1899.

Later he was permitted to leave Siberia before expiration of his term, and in 1902 he joined his colony in Saskatchewan, where he had 8,000 people on his hands. There was difficulties with the government, the climate was unsatisfactory and in 1910 about 5,000 of the settlement emigrated to British Columbia, where they settled in the mountains and took up there community life in a district which they thought more favorable for communal development.

Benevolent Despot

Actual head of the Doukhobors since his arrival, Verigin was de- scribed as a benevolent despot, ab- solutely devoted to the interests of the Doukhobors at all times, plotting, planning and scheming to advance their cause, not enriching himself, ruling with a hand of iron, exacting implicit obedience and exercising rigid discipline. On one occasion the whole com- munity turned out to welcome Peter Verigin back from a tour during which he visited communities at Yorkton and Alberta. He advised them against having anything to do with the fanatics who organized naked pilgrimages and burnt down schoolhouses.

As Verigin was speaking, a group of fanatics were seen making their way towards the platform. The mo- ment he spotted them he put his pacifist principles away for a mo- ment while he jumped down to sweep the fanatics out of the build- ing. Not one of them dared face the big man as he rushed them out of the hall.

He was a big man in every sense of the word. The history and tra- ditions of his people, his own suffer- ings, his contact with great men have been his education. He had strong reasoning capacity, diplomatic skill and subtlety.

The greatest evidence of his ability is the manner in which he, for 25 years, with comparative success, held together his people in an environ- ment entirely foreign to their ideas, their beliefs and their ambitions.

Was Massive Man

Peter Verigin's personality was both attractive and impressive. He was muscular, massive, with a fine head, great natural dignity and car- riage and the atmosphere of strength. Yet he had remarkably gentle manner. He spoke in a low voice, and was courteous in his manner. His people yielded him the utmost deference and obedience, due, per- haps, more to his personal endow- ments than to their religious beliefs.

Father to His People

In 1912, the province of British Columbia appointed a Royal commis- sion to report on matters relating to the "sect of Doukhobors," and the report reviews in some detail the his- tory of the sect in Russia and Canada.

"The figure of Peter Verigin," the report said, "stands majestic and all- powerful * * * the community af- fairs are in the hands of a man who is well able to handle them; who has achieved the most remarkable re- sults: who is indeed a father to his people, teaching, guiding and en- couraging them."

The report declared that when Verigin arrived in Canada his dress "was that of a gentleman of means and good taste, and he had six or seven different equipages. He drove in state from village to village, accompanied by a band of singers, and in his travels from place to place was invariably accompanied by a number of young women."

There was criticism, such display was declared inconsistent, and the equipages and state were abandoned and a new house, alleged to have cost $75,000, was never used.

"Then," it is said, "the old straw hat, the rough clothing and trousers bound at the leg-bottoms with binder twine were once more affected."

Son May Succeed

Under Verigin's dictatorship, states Peter G. Makaroff, Doukhobor lawyer, Saskatoon, which was backed up by the belief of many of the 7,000 Douk- hobors in the community at Verigin, Sask., and Brilliant, B.C., that he was reincarnation of Christ, property valued in the millions has been amassed, flourishing industries have been established and the penniless religious refugees who first began to come to Canada from Russia in 1899 have been cemented into a powerful unit. There is no one to take his place, it is said, owing to the super stitious reverence in which he was held, although there is a bare pos- sibility that his son, Peter, who has been living in Russia since about 1907, and who is about 40 years of age, may be chosen to succeed him. Certainly there is no one in the community in Canada who can be considered even a possibility for the leadership.

The Doukhobortsi, as they are properly called, have been incorpor ated as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, limited, which owns all the property of the com- munity. No member owns anything himself, although many of them are shareholders in the company. Theo- retically, the company's affairs are conducted by the will of the share- holders, but practically that will has been absolutely vested in Peter Veri- gin and his influence has sufficed to smooth out the difficulties and jealousies which always develop in communistic enterprises. His chief assistant in the practical end of the community's business has been M. W. Cazakoff, a keen business man, but who does not appear to be a possibility as the spiritual leader of the community, and a spiritual as well as practical leader is absolutely essential to the successful carrying on of the enterprise, according to Mr. Makaroff.

Major Schisms Averted

There has been strife in the com- munity in the past, and hundreds have left it to set up as farmers for themselves, but major schisms have always been averted solely through Verigin's influence.

Major beliefs of the Doukho- bortsi (spirit wrestlers) are inter- nationalism, communism and vegeta- rianism, all of which are taken to be the essential elements of Chris- tianity. The first of these tenets involves the doctrine of nonresist- ance, and it was this that brought the Doukhobortsi into conflict with the military authorities of Czarist Russia, led to prosecution and their migration to western Canada on in- vitation of the Canadian government. The Doukhobors were brought to Canada largely by means of funds raised by Tolstoi and by the Quak- ers of England, with whom the Douk- hobors were largely in religious sym- pathy.

Their marriage customs have not been in accordance with Canadian law, although real immorality is practically unknown among them.

Among the industries operated by he community at present are a lum- ber mill, jam factory, and brick manufactory.

With the death of Verigin, a uni- que figure in history is removed and the affairs of 7,000 people are cast into confusion.

Source: "Will There Be a Successor to Verigin?," Nelson Daily News, November 5, 1924.

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