small flourish

A Doomed Utopia

The Doukhobors and Their Troubles — How Peter Veregin Plays Upon the Ignoance of His Followers

[ The Doukhobor commune was known for using the latest technology, here a steam plow to break prairie soil, 1905, Unknown, Plakun Trava p. 94 ]

By Mrs. W. Garland Foster.

Although essentially a peace loving people, opposed to all the arts of war, the Doukhobors, in common with the rest of the world, have felt the restlessness consequent upon a return to normal conditions. The experiences of these people in endeavoring to preserve a colony of different ideals apart from the rest of the world should be of value to those countries that hope to maintain a splendid isolation in the midst of world problems.

The disintegration of the "Community of Universal Brotherhood" as they call themselves has been going on for some time, probably ever since they landed in this country, although many believe that the line of demarkation was not drawn until the war and the need of greater expansion determined the leaders to organize themselves into a limited stock company. [...]

During the war the Doukhobors must have had a hard time, and stories have leaked out of short rations in the community. The production of food for such a large community was not easy on new land; and public opinion was not too favorable. [...]

During the agitation regarding the soldier settlement of Doukhobor lands, it was pointed out by the Reconstruction board of Grand Forks that the Doukhobors in that "colony have 200 children of school age, and although the government maintains a separate school only 12 pupils, all boys, attend. We believe the Doukhobors are exploiting the school system for the purpose of upholding their community system, namely to provide heads for their different departments and not for the education of their children as a whole."


This school question has become a burning one in more ways than one. It is an interesting fact that any demonstrations in the "Community of Universal Brotherhood" generally take place soon after the annual meeting which is always held by the first of March. In the spring of 1922 there was an attempt at a parade, au naturel which landed some of the agitators in the Nelson jail. Last year marked the burning of the first school at Grand Forks, which was shortly followed by three other school fires. Up to this time the only action taken by the government of B.C. was to summon certain Doukhobors to appear in court for not complying with the school act. The attitude of the leader Veregin over the first school burned was peculiar and at the time pointed to some knowledge of or some sympathy with the crime. He stated that the fines required of the Doukhobors for failing to comply with the school act would not be willingly paid, and if force was resorted to all the schools would be closed and he would not guarantee that other schools would not be burned. He further accused the government of trying to pick a quarrel, and scored the inspector and teachers for lack of tact, intimating that the customs of young teachers in walking out till late in the evening with men friends was setting an undesirable example to the young people of the Doukhobor community. [...]

Probably Veregin was delighted was delighted to have something to distract attention from what was going on within the colony. During the winter of 1921-1922, following a report that the Doukhobors might return to Russia, an attempt was made to collect funds for famine stricken Russia and the refugees. As a result 500 of the community came out openly and made a protest of some length in a local paper over the signatures Toporov, Lapatkin, Kortsoff. To feel the thin ice upon which Peter Veregin was skating at this time one has only to consider the paragraph regarding his position embodied in this statement, printed just as it was written:

"We, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, also have people at the head of our organization — Peter Veregin and others, who invite us to make collection for the hungered people of Russia and for the escapes across the line, Russian people. Veregin has got a good life; he always has food and but works little. But we, the group of majority workingmen more than 500, absolutely protest against collection for hungered Russian people, because we ourselves are using very restricted food. And if they year like last one will be repeated, then we are also very close to hunger in Canada.... The time has come that an English saying is very adaptable: 'Help yourself!'"


The Community [soon after] gave out a statement of the scope of the corporation as follows: "The main foundation of the creed of this corporation is all working men are working for the same interest. Commencing from the common working men to the president, all members receive equal remuneration. Each member is allowed a limited amount of cash on account of hard times, but every person living in the community is given a house, food, clothing, etc. In addition the officers' traveling expenses are paid by the corporation.


The election [of Community officers] for 1924 seems to have been conducted without much publicity, but in the list of directors, one misses the names of Koftinoff, who has been replaced as manager at Brilliant, by Larry Veregin; Shervinin, too, who had come much in contact with the Canadian proletariat and is reputed to have cast the eye of Omar at the fleshly trappings of the outside world, is not mentioned; Reibin, who used to be a force in the community following differences of opinion has betaken himself to California.

Since the annual meeting, however, the fanatics have been busy again, and three more schools have been added to last year's burnings, and on this occasion, Peter Veregin's own house at Brilliant was also consumed. Curious thing about his house, that although furnished with considerable comfort, not to say luxury, and reputed to contain Oriental rugs of value, the owner is said never to have spent a night there! Curious that the man of privileges should rest uneasily in a community where the people are so conscientious that they eat no meat, (except surreptitiously) and when gophers and other rodents become troublesome catch them and carry them a mile or so away to be released rather than kill them.

The department of education of B.C. has already announced the rebuilding of the schools, the cost to be added to Doukhobor taxation. Veregin, himself says the fires are the work of fanatics and it is conceded by the outside world that this time the fanaticism has been directed against his own person. [...]

Source: Mrs. W. Garland Foster, "A Doomed Utopia," Saturday Night, June 14, 1924.

Return to parent page