The Doukhobours or Dukhobors (Russian: ДухоборыDukhobory, also Dukhobortsy, Russian: Духоборцы; literally “Spirit-Warriors / Wrestlers“)[2][3][4] are a Spiritual Christian ethnoreligious group of Russian origin. They are one of many non-Orthodox ethno-confessional faiths in Russia, often categorized as “folk-Protestants”, Spiritual Christians, sectarians, or heretics. They are distinguished as pacifists who lived in their own villages, rejected personal materialism, worked together, and developed a tradition of oral history and memorizing and singing hymns and verses (the “Book of Life“). Before 1886, they had a series of single leaders. The origin of the Doukhobors is uncertain. The first written records of them are from 1701, although some scholars suspect earlier origins.[5]

They reject the Russian Orthodox priesthood, the use of icons, and all associated church ritual. Doukhobors came to believe that the Bible alone was not enough to reach divine revelation,[6] and that doctrinal conflicts can interfere with their faith. Their goal was to internalize the living spirit of God so that God’s spirit would be revealed within each individual. Biblical teachings are evident in some published Doukhobor psalms, hymns, and beliefs. The Doukhobors traditionally ate bread and borscht.[7][8] Some of their food-related religious symbols were bread, salt and water.[9]


In the 17th- and 18th-century Russian Empire, the first recorded Doukhobours concluded that clergy and formal rituals were unnecessary, believing in God’s presence in every human being. They rejected the secular government, the Russian Orthodox priests, icons, all church ritual, and the belief that the Bible was a supreme source of divine revelation.[6] They believed in the divinity of Jesus. Their practices and emphasis on individual interpretation as well as opposition to the government and church, provoked antagonism from the government and the established Russian Orthodox church. In 1734, the government issued an edict against ikonobortsy (those who reject icons), condemning them as iconoclasts.[10][page needed]

Siluan (Silvan) Kolesnikov (Russian: Силуан Колесников) was the first known Doukhobor leader, active from 1755 to 1775. He came from the village of Nikolskoye in Yekaterinoslav Governorate in what is today south-central Ukraine.[10][page needed] Kolesnikov was familiar with the works of Western mystics such as Karl von Eckartshausen and Louis Claude de Saint-Martin.[11]

The early Doukhobors called themselves “God’s People” or simply “Christians.” Their modern name, first in the form Doukhobortsy (Russian: ДухоборцыDukhobortsy, ‘Spirit wrestlers’) is thought to have been first used in 1785 or 1786 by Ambrosius, the Archbishop of Yekaterinoslav[10][page needed] or his predecessor, Nikifor (Nikephoros Theotokis).[12][a]The archbishop’s intent was to mock them as heretics fighting against the Holy Spirit (Russian: Святой ДухSvyatoy Dukh); but later on (around the beginning of the 19th century, according to SA Inikova[12]) the dissenters adopted the name, usually in a shorter form, Doukhobory (Russian: ДухоборыDukhobory), implying that they are fighting not against, but along with the Spirit.[10] The first known use of the spelling Doukhobor is attested in a government edict of 1799, exiling 90 of them to Finland[10] (presumably, the Vyborg area, which was already part of the Russian Empire at the time) for their anti-war propaganda.

As pacifists, the Doukhobors also ardently rejected the institutions of militarism and wars. For these reasons, the Doukhobors were harshly oppressed in Imperial Russia. Both the tsarist state and church authorities were involved in the persecution of these dissidents, as well as taking away their normal freedoms.

In 1802, the Emperor Alexander I encouraged resettlement of religious minorities to the so-called “Milky Waters” (Molochnye Vody): the region around the Molochnaya River (around Melitopol in today’s southern Ukraine). This was motivated by the desire both to quickly populate the rich steppe lands on the north shore of the Black and Azov Seas, and to prevent the “heretics” from contaminating the population of the heartland with their ideas. Many Doukhobors, as well as Mennonites from Prussia, accepted the Emperor’s offer, coming to the Molochnaya from various provinces of the Empire over the next 20 years.[14][unreliable source?]

Transcaucasian exile

The village of Gorelovka in southern Georgia, the “capital” of the Doukhobors of Transcaucasia (1893)

The Doukhobor worship place in Georgia

When Nicholas I succeeded Alexander as Tsar, he issued a decree (February 6, 1826), intending to force assimilation of the Doukhobors by means of military conscription, prohibiting their meetings, and encouraging conversions to the established church.[10] On October 20, 1830, another decree followed, specifying that all able-bodied members of dissenting religious groups engaged in propaganda against the established church should be conscripted and sent to the Russian army in the Caucasus, while those not capable of military service, as well as their women and children, should be resettled in Russia’s recently acquired Transcaucasian provinces. It is reported that, among other dissenters, some 5,000 Doukhobors were resettled to Georgia between 1841 and 1845. The Akhalkalaki uyezd (district) of the Tiflis Governorate was chosen as the main place of their settlement. Doukhobor villages with Russian names appeared there: Gorelovka, Rodionovka, Yefremovka, Orlovka, Spasskoye (Dubovka), Troitskoye, and Bogdanovka.[15][16][unreliable source?] Later on, other groups of Doukhobors—resettled by the government, or migrating to Transcaucasia by their own accord—settled in other neighboring areas, including the Borchaly uyezd of Tiflis Governorate and the Kedabek uyezd of Elisabethpol Governorate.

After Russia’s conquest of Kars and the Treaty of San Stefano of 1878, some Dukhobors from Tiflis and Elisabethpol Governorates moved to the Zarushat and Shuragel uyezds of the newly created Kars Oblast (north-east of Kars in today’s Republic of Turkey).[16] The leader of the main group of Doukhobors that arrived in Transcaucasia from Ukraine in 1841 was one Illarion Kalmykov (Russian: Илларион Калмыков). He died in the same year, and was succeeded as the community leader by his son, Peter Kalmykov (?–1864). After Peter Kalmykov’s death in 1864, his widow Lukerya Vasilyevna Gubanova (? – December 15, 1886; (Russian: Лукерья Васильевна Губанова); also known as Kalmykova, by her husband’s surname) took his leadership position.[17]

The Kalmykov dynasty resided in the village of Gorelovka, one of the Doukhobor communities in Georgia (shown on one of Jonathan J. Kalmakoff’s maps).[16] Lukerya was respected by the provincial authorities, who had to cooperate with the Doukhobors on various matters. The number of Doukhobors in the Transcaucasia reached 20,000 by the time of her death in 1886. By that time, the Doukhobors of the region had become vegetarian, and were aware of Leo Tolstoy’s philosophy, which they found quite similar to their traditional teachings.[17]

Religious revival and crises

The death of “Lukerya”, who had no children, was followed by a leadership crisis which divided Dukhobortsy in the Caucasus into two “parties” (major groups) by who would be their next leader. Lukerya planned that leadership should pass to her assistant, Peter Vasilevich Verigin. But only part of the community (“the Large Party”; Russian: Большая сторонаromanized: Bolshaya Storona) accepted him as the leader; others, known as “the Small Party” (Малая сторона Malaya Storona), sided with Lukerya’s brother Michael Gubanov and the village elder Aleksei Zubkov.[17][18]

The doukhobor village in Slavyanka Azerbaijan, 2018

While the Large Party was a majority, the Small Party had the support of the older members of the community and the local authorities. On January 26, 1887, at the community service where the new leader was to be acclaimed, the police arrived and arrested Verigin. He was sent into internal exile for the next 16 years in Russia’s Far North of Siberia; some of his associates were sent into exile as well. The Large Party Doukhobors continued to consider him their spiritual leader and to communicate with him, by mail and via delegates who traveled to see him in Obdorsk, Siberia.[17][18] An isolated population of exiled Doukhobors, a third “party”, was about 5,000 miles east in Amur Oblast.

At the same time, the government applied greater pressure to enforce the Doukhobors’ compliance with its laws and regulations. The Doukhobors had resisted registering marriages and births, contributing grain to state emergency funds, and swearing oaths of allegiance. In 1887 Russia enforced the universal military conscription required in the rest of the empire into these Transcaucasian provinces as well. While the Small Party people cooperated with the state, the Large Party, reacting to arrest of their leaders and inspired by their letters from exile,[19] only felt strengthened in their desire to abide in the righteousness of their faith. Under instructions from Verigin, they stopped using tobacco and alcohol, divided their property equally among the members of the community, and resolved to adhere to the practice of pacifism and non-violence. They would refuse to swear the oath of allegiance required in 1894 by the new emperor, Nicholas II in 1894.[10][18]

Under further instructions from Verigin, about 7,000 of the most zealous Doukhobors (about one-third of all Doukhobors) of the three Governorates of Transcaucasia destroyed their weapons and refused to serve in the military. As the Doukhobors gathered to burn their guns on the night of June 28/29 (July 10/11, Gregorian calendar) 1895, while singing of psalms and spiritual songs, government Cossacks arrested and beat them. Soon, the government billeted Cossacks in many of the Large Party’s villages; some 4,000 Doukhobors were forced to disperse in villages in other parts of Georgia. Many died of starvation and exposure.[18][20]

Migration to Canada

First emigrants

The port of Batumi as it was in 1881. Here the Doukhobors embarked on their transatlantic journey in 1898 and 1899[21]

The resistance of the Doukhobors gained international attention and the Russian Empire was criticized for its treatment of this religious minority. In 1897 the Russian government agreed to let the Doukhobors leave the country, subject to a number of conditions:

  • the emigrants should never return;
  • they had to emigrate at their own expense;
  • community leaders currently in prison or in exile in Siberia would have to serve the balance of their sentences before they could leave.[10]

Some of the emigrants went first to Cyprus, which could not sustain a large migration. Soon Canada offered more land, transportation, and aid to resettle in the Saskatchewan area. Around 6,000 emigrated there in the first half of 1899, settling on land granted to them by the government in what is now Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. The Cyprus colony and others joined them, with a total of 7500 emigrants by the end of the year,[20]—about one-third of the total Doukhobor population in Russia. Several smaller groups joined the main body of emigrants in later years, directly from Transcaucasia or other places of exile.[18] Among these latecomers were some 110 leaders of the community who had to complete their sentences before being allowed to emigrate.[20] By 1930 a total of about 8,780 Doukhobors had migrated from Russia to Canada.[22]

The Quakers and Tolstoyan movement covered most of the costs of passage for the emigrants; writer Leo Tolstoy arranged for the royalties from his novel Resurrection, his story Father Sergei, and some others, to go to the emigration fund. He also raised money from wealthy friends. In the end, his efforts provided about 30,000 rubles, half of the emigration fund. The anarchist Peter Kropotkin and James Mavor, a professor of political economy at the University of Toronto, also helped the emigrants.[23][24]

They adapted to life in agricultural communes. The immigrants were overwhelmingly of peasant origin, and had a low regard for advanced education. (Not until 1918 did Peter Makaroff become the “first Doukhobor in the world to get an education, to receive a university degree, and to enter a profession”.[25]) Many worked as loggers, lumbermen, and carpenters. Eventually, splits happened; many left the communal dormitories and became private farmers homesteading on the Canadian plains, with Religious a cappella singing, pacifism, and passive resistance were hallmarks of the sect. One subgroup occasionally demonstrated while naked, typically as a protest against compulsory military service.[26] Their policies made them highly controversial. The modern descendants of the first Canadian Doukhobors continue to live in southeastern British Columbia (an example being the community in Krestova), southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, where their ancestors settled. Today, the estimated population of Doukhobor descent in North America is 40,000 in Canada and about 5,000 in the United States.[1]

Canadian prairies

Vosnesenia (‘Ascension’) village, NE of Arran, Saskatchewan (North Colony). A typical one-street village, modeled on those back in the Old World.

In accordance with the Dominion Lands Act of 1872, the Canadian government would grant 160 acres (0.65 km2) of land, for a nominal fee of $10, to any male homesteader able to establish a working farm on that land within three years. Living on single-family homesteads would not fit Doukhobors’ communitarian tradition. Fortunately, the Act contained the “Hamlet Clause”, adopted some 15 years earlier to accommodate other communitarian groups such as Mennonites, which would allow the beneficiaries of the Act to live not on the actual land grant, but in a village (“hamlet”) within 3 miles (4.8 km) from their land.[27] This would allow the Doukhobors to establish a communal lifestyle, similar to the Hutterites.

Even more importantly, by passing in late 1898 Section 21 of the Dominion Military Act, the Canadian Government exempted the Doukhobors from military service.[27]

The land for the Doukhobor immigrants, in the total amount of 773,400 acres (3,130 km2), came in three “block settlement” areas (“reserves”), plus an “annex”, within what was to soon become the Province of Saskatchewan:[28]

  • The North Colony, also known as the “Thunder Hill Colony” or “Swan River Colony”, in the Pelly and Arran districts of Saskatchewan. It became home to 2,400 Doukhobors from Tiflis Governorate, who established 20 villages on 69,000 acres (280 km2) of the land grant.
  • The South Colony, also known as the “Whitesand Colony” or “Yorkton Colony”, in the Canora, Veregin and Kamsack districts of Saskatchewan. Some 3,500 Doukhobors from Tiflis Governorate, Elisabethpol Governorate, and Kars Oblast settled there in 30 villages on 215,010 acres (870.1 km2) of land grant.
  • The Good Spirit Lake Annex, in the Buchanan district of Saskatchewan, received 1,000 Doukhobors from Elisabethpol Governorate and Kars Oblast. Russia settled there in eight villages on 168,930 acres (683.6 km2) of land grant. The annex was along the Good Spirit River, flowing into Good Spirit Lake (previously known as Devil’s Lake).
  • The Saskatchewan Colony, also known as the “Rosthern Colony”,[27] “Prince Albert Colony” or “Duck Lake Colony”, was located along the North Saskatchewan River in the Langham and Blaine Lake districts of Saskatchewan, north-west of Saskatoon. 1,500 Doukhobors from Kars Oblast settled there in 13 villages on 324,800 acres (1,314 km2) of land grant.

Geographically, North and South Colonies, as well as Good Spirit Lake Annex (Devil’s Lake Annex, to non-believers) were around Yorkton, not far from the border with today’s Manitoba; the Saskatchewan (Rosthern) Colony was located north-west of Saskatoon, quite a distance from the other three “reserves.”

At the time of settlement (1899), all four “reserves” formed part of the Northwest Territories: Saskatchewan (Rosthern) Colony in the territories’ provisional District of Saskatchewan, North Reserve, straddling the border of Saskatchewan and Assiniboia districts, and the other two entirely in Assiniboia. After the establishing of the Province of Saskatchewan in 1905, all reserves found themselves within that province.

Doukhobor women pulling a plow, Thunder Hill Colony, Manitoba

Verigin convinced his followers to free their “brethren” (animals) and pull their wagons and plows themselves. On the lands granted to them in the prairies, the settlers established villages along the same lines as back in the old country. Some of the new villages received the same Russian names as the settlers’ home villages in Transcaucasia (e.g., Spasovka, Large and Small Gorelovka, Slavianka); others gained more abstract, “spiritual” names, not common in Russia: “Uspeniye” (‘Dormition’), “Terpeniye” (‘Patience’), “Bogomdannoye” (‘Given by God’), “Osvobozhdeniye” (‘Liberation’).[28]

The settlers found Saskatchewan winters much harsher than those in Transcaucasia, and expressed particular disappointment that the climate was not as suitable for growing fruits and vegetables. Women greatly outnumbered the men. Many women worked on the farms tilling the land, while many men took non-farm jobs, especially in railway construction.[27]

The earliest arrivals came from three different backgrounds and had varying commitments to communal life. They lacked leadership. Verigin arrived in December 1902, was recognized as the leader, and reimposed communalism and self-sufficiency. The railway arrived in 1904 and hopes of isolation from Canadian society ended.[29][30]

Popular distrust

Canadians, politicians, and the media were deeply suspicious of the Doukhobors. Their communal life style seemed suspicious. Their refusal to send children to any school was considered deeply troubling, while pacifism caused anger during the World War. The Doukhobor faction known as Sons of Freedom use of nude marches and midnight arson was considered unacceptable and offensive.[31] Canadian magazines showed strong curiosity, giving special attention to women’s bodies and clothing. Magazines and newspapers carried stories and photographs of Doukhobor women engaged in hard farm labour, doing “women’s work”, wearing traditional ethnic dress, and in partial or total states of undress.[32] Financially they received help from Quakers. Clifford Sifton, the Minister of the Interior, eagerly wanted them and he arranged the financial subsidies to bring them over.[33]

Loss of land rights

Due to the community’s aversion towards private ownership of land, Verigin had the land registered in the name of the community. But by 1906, the Dominion Government, in the person of Frank Oliver, the new Minister of Interior, started requiring the registration of the land in the name of individual owners. Many Doukhobors’ refusal to do so resulted in 1907 in the reverting of more than a third (258,880 acres (1,047.7 km2)) of Doukhobor lands back to the Crown. The loss of legal title to their land became a major grievance.


A serious political issue was caused by the fact that the Doukhobors would have to become naturalized citizens (i.e., British subjects) and to swear an Oath of Allegiance to the Crown—something that had always been against their principles.[34] A new crisis would develop just a decade after the conscription crisis in Russia.

The crisis resulted in a three-way split of the Doukhobor community in Canada:[10]

  • The edinolichniki (‘Independents’), who constituted by 1907 some 10% of the Canadian Doukhobors. They maintained their religion, but abandoned communal ownership of land, rejecting hereditary leadership and communal living as non-essential to it.
  • The largest group — the Community Doukhobors, sometimes called “orthodox Doukhobors” — continued to be loyal to their spiritual leader Peter V. Verigin. They formed an organization known as Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) reformed in 1939 as the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC).[35]
  • The more radical Sons of Freedom group (originally called the “Svobodniki” (Russian for “sovereign people”) or “Freedomites” by the press, which emerged in 1903), embraced Verigin’s writings in such a zealous manner that he banned them from his community. Unfortunately, reporters too often confused them with law-abiding Doukhobors and focused on their sensational behaviours.

Of these groupings, the Independents integrated the most readily into Canadian capitalist society. They had no problem with registering their land groups, and largely remained in Saskatchewan. In 1939, they definitively rejected the authority of Peter Verigin’s great-grandson, John J. Verigin.

British Columbia and Verigin’s assassination

To take his followers away from the corrupting influence of non-Doukhobors and Edinolichniki (‘individual owners’) Doukhobors, and to find better conditions for agriculture, Verigin, starting in 1908, bought large tracts of land in south-eastern British Columbia. His first purchase was near the US border around Grand Forks. Later, he acquired large tracts of land further east, in the Slocan Valley around Castlegar. Between 1908 and 1912, some 8,000 people moved to these British Columbia lands from Saskatchewan, to continue their communal way of living.[28] In the milder climate of British Columbia, the settlers were able to plant fruit trees, and within a few years became renowned orchardists and producers of fruit preserves.

As the Community Doukhobors left Saskatchewan, the “reserves” there were closed by 1918.

Verigin Memorial

Peter V. Verigin was killed in a bomb explosion on October 29, 1924 on a scheduled passenger train en route to British Columbia. The government had initially stated that the crime was perpetrated by people within the Doukhobor community, although the Doukhobors’ customary refusal to cooperate with Canadian authorities due to fear of intersect violence culminated in no arrests being made. It is still unknown who was responsible for the bombing. Thus, while the Doukhobors were initially welcomed by the Canadian government, this assassination, as well as Doukhobors’ beliefs regarding communal living and no tolerance for schooling, and other beliefs considered offensive or unacceptable, created an air of mistrust between government authorities and Doukhobors which would last for decades.[36]

Peter V. Verigin’s son, Peter P. Verigin, who arrived from the Soviet Union in 1928, succeeded his father as leader of the Community Doukhobors. He became known as Peter the Purger, and worked to smooth the relations between the Community Doukhobors and the larger Canadian society. The governments in Ottawa and the western provinces concluded that he was the closet leader of the Sons of Freedom and was perhaps a dangerous Bolshevik. The decision was to try to deport him, a strategy to use the justice system to impose conformity to Canadian values among the Doukhobors and force them to abide by Canadian law and repudiate the un-Canadian practices. With a legal defence managed by Peter Makaroff, the deportation effort failed in 1933.[37] However, Verigin’s policies were repudiated by the Sons of Freedom as ungodly and assimilationist. They escalated their protests. The Sons of Freedom would burn the Community Doukhobors’ property, and organize more nude parades. The Parliament of Canada responded in 1932 by criminalizing public nudity. Over the years, over 300 radical Doukhobor men and women were arrested for this offense, which typically carried a three-year prison sentence.[27]

Nudism and arson

Nudism and arson were the highly visible methods of protest used by the Sons of Freedom.[38] They protested against materialism, the land seizure by the government, compulsory education in government schools and Verigin’s assassination. This led to many confrontations with the Canadian government and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (continuing into the 1970s). Nudism was a new technique first used after their arrival in Canada.[39] They used violence to fight modernity. They destroyed threshing machines and other signs of modernity. With night-time arson they burned schools built by the Doukhobor commune and even Verigin’s house.[40]

During 1947 and 1948, Sullivan’s Royal Commission investigated acts of arson and bombing attacks in British Columbia and recommended a number of measures intended to integrate the Doukhobors into Canadian society, notably through the education of their children in public schools. Around that time, the provincial government entered into direct negotiations with the Freedomite leadership. W. A. C. Bennett’s Social Credit government, which came to power in 1952, took a harder stance against the “Doukhobor problem.” In 1953, 174 children of the Sons of Freedom were forcibly interned by the government agents in a residential school in New Denver, British Columbia. Abuse of the interned children was later alleged.[41][42]

In less than a half a century, acts of violence and arson by the Sons of Freedom rose to 1,112 separate events costing over $20 million in damages that included public school bombings and burnings, bombings of Canadian railroad bridges and tracks,[43] the bombing of the Nelson courthouse,[44] and a huge power transmission tower servicing the East Kootenay district resulting in the loss of 1200 jobs. Many of the independent and community Doukhobors believed that the Freedomites violated the central Doukhobor principle of nonviolence (with arson and bombing) and therefore did not deserve to be called Doukhobors.[45]

Doukhobors remaining in Russia

After the departure of the more zealous and non-compromising Doukhobors and many community leaders to Canada at the close of the Elisabethpol Governorate in the Caucasus Viceroyalty (now Azerbaijan); the former Doukhobor villages were now mostly populated by Baptists. Elsewhere, some Doukhobors joined nearby Spiritual Christian groups.[17]

Those who remained Doukhobors were required to submit to the state. Few protested against military service: for example, out of 837 Russian court-martial cases against conscientious objectors recorded between the beginning of World War I and April 1, 1917, merely 16 had Doukhobor defendants—and none of those hailed from the Transcaucasian provinces.[17] During 1921 to 1923, Verigin’s son, Peter P. Verigin, arranged the resettlement of 4000 Doukhobors from the Ninotsminda (Bogdanovka) district in south Georgia into Rostov Oblast in southern Russia and another 500 into Zaporizhzhia Oblast in Ukraine.[18][46]

The Soviet reforms greatly affected the life of the Doukhobors both in their old villages in Georgia and in the new settlement areas in the Russian South and Ukraine. The state anti-religious campaigns resulted in the suppression of Doukhobor religious tradition, and the loss of books and archival records. A number of religious leaders were arrested or exiled; for example, 18 people were exiled from Gorelovka alone in 1930.[18] On the other hand, Communists’ imposition of collective farming did not go against the grain of the Doukhobor way of life. The industrious Doukhobors made their collective farms prosperous, often specializing in cheesemaking.[18]

Of the Doukhobor communities in the USSR, those in South Georgia were the most sheltered from the outside influence because of the sheer geographic isolation in the mountainous terrain, their location near the international border, and concomitant travel restrictions for outsiders.[18]


Owm Doukhobor oral holy hymns, which is called among them the Book of Life (Russian: “Zhivotnaya kniga”), de facto replaced the written Bible. Their teaching is founded on this tradition.[47][48] The Book of Life of the Doukhobors (1909) is firstly printed hymnal containing songs in Southern Russian dialect, which to have been composed as an oral piece to be sung aloud. Their prayer meetings and gatherings are dominated by the singing of a cappella psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.[48]


Current population

In 2001 an estimated 20,000–40,000 people of Doukhobor heritage lived in Canada, some 3,800 of them claiming “Doukhobor” as their religious affiliation. Perhaps another 30,000 of Doukhobor heritage live in Russia and neighboring countries. In 2011 there were 2,290 persons in Canada who identified their religious affiliation as “Doukhobor”. In Russia there were some only 50 persons by the mid-2000s.


CCUB, the Orthodox Doukhobors organization or Community Doukhobors, was succeeded by the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, formed by Peter P. Verigin (Peter V. Verigin’s son) in 1938. The largest and most active formal Doukhobor organization, it is headquartered in Grand Forks, British Columbia.[49]

During the Canada 2011 Census,[50] 2,290 persons in Canada (of which, 1,860 in British Columbia, 200 in Alberta, 185 in Saskatchewan, and 25 in Ontario) identified their religious affiliation as “Doukhobor.” As the age distribution shows, the proportion of older people among these self-identified Doukhobors is higher than among the general population:

Age groups Total 0–14 years 15–24 years 25–44 years 45–64 years 65–84 years 85 years and over
All Canadians, 2001 29,639,035 5,737,670 3,988,200 9,047,175 7,241,135 3,337,435 287,415
Self-identified Doukhobors, 2001 3,800 415 345 845 1,135 950 110
Self-identified Doukhobors, 1991 4,820 510 510 1,125 1,400 1,175 100

E.g., 28% of the self-identified Doukhobors in 2001 were over 65 (i.e., born before 1936), as compared to 12% of the entire population of Canadian respondents. The aging of the denomination is accompanied by the shrinking of its size, starting in the 1960s:[50][51]

The number of Canadians sharing Doukhobor heritage is much higher than the number of those who actually consider themselves members of this religion. Doukhobor researchers made estimates from “over 20,000” people “from [Doukhobor] stock” in Canada[51]) to over 40,000 Doukhobors by “a wider definition of religion, ethnicity, way of life, and social movement.”[52][page needed]

Canadian Doukhobors no longer live communally. Doukhobors do not practice baptism. They reject several items considered orthodox among Christian churches, including church organization and liturgy, the inspiration of the scriptures, the literal interpretation of resurrection, the literal interpretation of the Trinity, and the literal interpretation of heaven and hell. Some avoid the use of alcohol, tobacco, and animal products for food, and eschew involvement in partisan politics. Doukhobors believe in the goodness of man and reject the idea of original sin.

Georgia and Russia

Peter Kalmykov’s house in Gorelovka, Georgia

Since the late 1980s, many of the Doukhobors of Georgia started emigrating to Russia. Various groups moved to Tula Oblast, Rostov Oblast, Stavropol Krai, and elsewhere. After the 1991 independence of Georgia, many villages with Russian names received Georgian names: for example, Bogdanovka became Ninotsminda, Troitskoe became Sameba, etc. According to various estimates, in Ninotsminda District, the Doukhobor population fell from around 4000 in 1979 to 3,000–3,500 in 1989 and not much more than 700 in 2006. In the Dmanisi district, from around 700 Doukhobors living there in 1979, no more than 50 seem to remain by the mid-2000s. Those who do remain are mostly older people, since it is the younger generation who found it easier to relocate to Russia. The Doukhobor community of Gorelovka (in Ninotsminda District), the former “capital” of the Kalmykov family, is thought to be the best preserved in all post-Soviet countries.[18]

Ecumenical relations

The Doukhobor have maintained close association with Mennonites and Quakers due to similar religious practices; all of these groups are furthermore collectively considered to be peace churches due to their belief in pacifism.[53][54][55]

Historical sites and museums

Leo Tolstoy Statue at Doukhobor Discovery Centre

In 1995, the Doukhobor Suspension Bridge spanning the Kootenay River was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.[56] The sites of Community Doukhobors’ headquarters in Veregin, Saskatchewan, was designated a National Historic Site in 2006, under the name “Doukhobors at Veregin”.

A Doukhobor museum, currently known as “Doukhobor Discovery Centre” (formerly, “Doukhobor Village Museum”) operates in Castlegar, British Columbia. It contains over a thousand artifacts representing the arts, crafts, and daily life of the Doukhobors of the Kootenays in 1908–38.[57][58]

Although most of the early Doukhobor village structures in British Columbia have vanished or been significantly remodeled by later users, a part of Makortoff Village outside of Grand Forks, British Columbia has been preserved as a museum by Peter Gritchen, who purchased the property in 1971 and opened it as the Mountain View Doukhobor Museum on June 16, 1972. The future of the site became uncertain after his death in 2000, but, in cooperation with a coalition of the local organizations and concerned citizens, the historical site, known as Hardy Mountain Doukhobor Village, was purchased by The Land Conservancy of British Columbia in March 2004, while the museum collection was acquired by the Boundary Museum Society and loaned to TLC for display.[59]

The Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa has a collection of Doukhobor-related items as well. A special exhibition there was run in 1998–99 to mark the centennial anniversary of the Doukhobor arrival to Canada.[60]

Linguistic history and dialect

The Dukhobors brought with them to Canada a Southern Russian dialect, which over the following decades underwent some changes under the influence of the Canadian English environment and the speech of the Ukrainian settlers in Saskatchewan. Over several generations, this dialect has been mostly lost, as the modern descendants of the original Doukhobor migrants to Canada are typically native English speakers, and when they do speak Russian, it is typically a fairly standard variety of it.

Linguistic history of the Doukhobors

In 1802 that the Doukhobors, and other spiritual Christian tribes, were encouraged to migrate to the Molochna River region, around Melitopol near Ukraine’s Sea of Azov coast, within the Pale of Settlement neighboring settlements of anabaptists from Germany. Over the next 10–20 years, the Doukhobors, and others, speaking a variety of mostly Southern Russian dialects arrived to the Molochna from several provinces located, primarily, in what is today eastern Ukraine and south-central Russia.[61] In the settlers’ villages an opportunity thus arose for the formation of a certain dialect koiné, based on Southern Russian and Eastern Ukrainian dialects.

Starting in 1841, the Doukhobors, and others, were resettled from southern Ukraine to Transcaucasia, where they founded a number of villages surrounded by mostly non-Russian speaking neighbors (primarily Azerbaijanis in Elisabethpol Governorate, Armenians[62] in Tiflis Governorate, and likely a mix of both in the later (post-1878) settlements in Kars Oblast). These conditions allowed the dialect to develop in comparative isolation from the “mainstream” Russian.

With the migration of some 7,500 Doukhbors from Transcaucasia to Saskatchewan in 1899, and some smaller latecomer groups (both from Transcaucasia and from places of exile in Siberia and elsewhere), the dialect spoken in the Doukhobor villages of Transcaucasia was brought to the plains of Canada. From that point on it experienced influence from the English language of Canada and, during the years of Doukhobor stay in Saskatchewan, the speech of Doukhobor’s Ukrainian neighbors.

A split in the Doukhobor community resulted in a large number of Doukhobors moving from Saskatchewan to south-eastern British Columbia around 1910. Those who moved (the so-called “Community Doukhobors” – followers of Peter Verigin’s Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood – continued living a communal lifestyle for several more decades, and had a better chance to preserve the Russian language than the “Independent Doukhobors”, who stayed in Saskatchewan as individual farmers.

By the 1970s, as most Russia-born members of the community died, English became the first language of the great majority of Canadian Doukhobors.[63] Their English speech is not noticeably different from that of other English-speaking Canadians of their provinces. Russian still remains in use, at least for religious use among those who do practice the Doukhobor religion.

Features of the Doukhobor Russian dialect in Canada

According to Gunter Schaarschmidt’s survey article (“Four norms …”), research into the Russian spoken by Canada’s Doukhobors has not been extensive. However, a number of articles, mostly published in the 1960s and 1970s, noted a variety of features in Doukhobors’ Russian speech that were indeed characteristic of Southern, and in some cases Central Russian dialects, e.g. use of the Southern [h] where Standard Russian has [g].

Features characteristic of a number of locales in the East Slavic language space were noted as well, reflecting perhaps the heterogeneous origin of the Doukhobors’ settlements in Molochna River after 1800, e.g., similarly to Belarusians, Doukhobor speakers do not palatalize [r] in “редко” (redko, ‘seldom’). Remarkable was the dropping of the final -t in the 3rd person singular form of verbs. This can be considered a Ukrainian feature, and it is also attested in some Russian dialects spoken in Southern Ukraine (e.g., Nikolaev, not too far from the Doukhobors’ old homeland on the Molochna). As with other immigrant groups, the Russian speech of the Doukhobors uses English loanwords for some concepts that they had not encountered until moving to Canada.

One thought on “Doukhobors

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