(Redirected from Doukhobor)

The Doukhobors (Canadian spelling) or Dukhobors (Russian: духоборы, духоборцы, romanizeddukhobory, dukhobortsy; lit.'Spirit-warriors, Spirit-wrestlers')[2][3][4][5] are a Spiritual Christian ethnoreligious group of Russian origin. They are known for their pacifism and tradition of oral history, hymn-singing, and verse. They reject the Russian Orthodox priesthood and associated rituals, believing that personal revelation is more important than the Bible. Facing persecution by the Russian government for their nonorthodox beliefs, many migrated to Canada between 1899 and 1938, where most currently reside.[6]

Doukhobour women, 1887
Siluan Kolesnikov (17??–1775)
Regions with significant populations
Canada (British Columbia, etc.)40,000[1]
Southern Russia30,000
Christianity (Old Believers)
Book of Life (a hymnal)
South Russian • English
Related ethnic groups

In Russia, Dukhobortsy were variously portrayed as "folk-Protestants", Spiritual Christians, sectarians, and heretics. Among their core beliefs is the rejection of materialism. They also reject the Russian Orthodox priesthood, the use of icons, and all associated church rituals. Doukhobors believe the Bible alone is not enough to reach divine revelation[7] and that doctrinal conflicts can interfere with their faith. Biblical teachings are evident in some published Doukhobor psalms, hymns, and beliefs. Since arriving in Canada, parts of the Old Testament, but more profoundly the New Testament, were at the core of most Doukhobor beliefs. There continue to be spiritually progressive thinkers who, through introspection and debate, search for divine revelation to improve the faith.

The Doukhobors have a history dating back to at least 1701 (though some scholars suspect the group has earlier origins).[8] Doukhobors traditionally lived in their own villages and practiced communal living. The name Doukhobors, meaning "Spirit-wrestlers", derives from a slur made by the Russian Orthodox Church that was subsequently embraced by the group.[9]

Before 1886, the Doukhobors had a series of leaders. The origin of the Doukhobors is uncertain; they first appear in first written records from 1701.

The Doukhobors traditionally ate bread and borsch.[10][11] Some of their food-related religious symbols are bread, salt, and water.[12]



In the 17th-and-18th-century Russian Empire, the first recorded Doukhobors concluded clergy and formal rituals are unnecessary, believing in God's presence in every human being. They rejected the secular government, the Russian Orthodox priests, icons, all church rituals, and the belief the Bible is a supreme source of divine revelation.[7] The Doukhobors believed in the divinity of Jesus; their practices, emphasis on individual interpretation, and opposition to the government and church provoked antagonism from the government and the established Russian Eastern Orthodox Church. In 1734, the Russian government issued an edict against ikonobortsy (those who reject icons), condemning them as iconoclasts.[13]

The first-known Doukhobor leader was Siluan (Silvan) Kolesnikov (Russian: Силуан Колесников), who was active from 1755 to 1775. Kolesnikov lived in the village Nikolskoye, Yekaterinoslav Governorate, in modern-day south-central Ukraine.[13] Kolesnikov was familiar with the works of Western mystics such as Karl von Eckartshausen and Louis Claude de Saint-Martin.[14]

The early Doukhobors called themselves "God's People" or "Christians." Their modern name, first in the form Doukhobortsy (Russian: духоборцы, dukhobortsy ("Spirit wrestlers") ) is thought to have been first used in 1785 or 1786 by Ambrosius the Archbishop of Yekaterinoslav[13][15] or his predecessor Nikifor (Nikephoros Theotokis).[16][a] The archbishop's intent was to mock the Doukhobors as heretics fighting against the Holy Spirit (Russian: Святой Дух, Svyatoy Dukh) but around the beginning of the 19th century, according to SA Inikova,[16] the dissenters adopted the name "Doukhobors" usually in a shorter form Doukhobory (Russian: духоборы, dukhobory), implying they are fighting alongside rather than against the Holy Spirit.[13][18] The first known use of the spelling Doukhobor is in a 1799 government edict exiling 90 of the group to Finland;[13] presumably the Vyborg area, which was part of the Russian Empire at the time, for producing anti-war propaganda.[19]

The early Doukhobors were pacifists who rejected military institutions and war and were thus oppressed in Imperial Russia. Both the tsarist state and church authorities were involved in the persecution and deprivation of the dissidents' normal freedoms.[20]

In 1802, Tsar Alexander I encouraged the resettlement of religious minorities to the "Milky Waters" (Molochnye Vody) region around the Molochnaya River around Melitopol in modern-day southern Ukraine. This was motivated by the desire 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 and travelled to the Molochnaya from other provinces of the Empire over the next 20 years.[19]

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, on February 6, 1826, he issued a decree intending to force the assimilation of the Doukhobors through military conscription, prohibiting their meetings, and encouraging conversions to the established church.[13][18] On October 20, 1830, another decree followed, specifying 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, and their women and children, should be resettled in Russia's recently acquired Transcaucasian provinces. With other dissenters, around 5,000 Doukhobors were resettled in Georgia between 1841 and 1845. Akhalkalaki uyezd (district) in the Tiflis Governorate was chosen as the main place of their settlement.[19] Doukhobor villages with Russian names appeared there; Gorelovka, Rodionovka, Yefremovka, Orlovka, Spasskoye (Dubovka), Troitskoye, and Bogdanovka. Later, other groups of Doukhobors were resettled by the government or migrated to Transcaucasia of their own accord. They also settled in neighbouring areas, including the Borchaly uyezd of Tiflis Governorate and the Kedabek uyezd of Elisabethpol Governorate.[21]

In 1844, Doukhobors who were being exiled from their home near Melitopol to the village of Bogdanovka carved the Doukhobor Memorial Stone, which is now held in the collection of the Melitopol Museum of Local History.[22]

After Russia's conquest of Kars and the Treaty of San Stefano of 1878, some Doukhobors from Tiflis and Elisabethpol Governorates moved to the Zarushat and Shuragel uyezds of the newly created Kars Oblast to the north-east of Kars in the modern-day Republic of Turkey.[23] The leader of the main group of Doukhobors, who arrived in Transcaucasia from Ukraine in 1841, was 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) took his leadership position.[24]

The Kalmykov dynasty lived in the village of Gorelovka, a Doukhobor community in Georgia.[25][21] Lukerya was respected by the provincial authorities, who had to cooperate with the Doukhobors. At the time of her death in 1886, there were around 20,000 Doukhobors in Transcaucasia. By that time, the region's Doukhobors had become vegetarian and were aware of Leo Tolstoy's philosophy, which they found quite similar to their own traditional teachings.[24]

Religious revival and crises


The death of Lukerya, who had no children, was followed by a leadership crisis that divided the Dukhobortsy in the Caucasus into two major groups, which disputed their next leader. Lukerya wanted leadership to pass to her assistant Peter Vasilevich Verigin. Although most of the community—"the Large Party" Russian: Большая сторона, romanizedBolshaya Storona—accepted him as the leader, a minority faction known as "the Small Party" (Малая сторона Malaya Storona) rejected Verigin, and sided with Lukerya's brother Michael Gubanov and the village elder Aleksei Zubkov.[24][26][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 a community service at which the new leader was to be acclaimed, police arrived and arrested Verigin. He, along with some of his associates, was sent into internal exile in Siberia. Large Party Doukhobors continued to consider Verigin their spiritual leader and to communicate with him, by mail and via delegates who travelled to see him in Obdorsk.[24][26][27] An isolated population of exiled Doukhobors, a third "party", was about 5,000 miles (8,000 km) east in Amur Oblast.

At the same time, the Russian 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 extended universal military conscription, which applied to the rest of the empire, to the Transcaucasian provinces. While the Small Party cooperated with the state, the Large Party, reacting to the arrest of their leaders and inspired by their letters from exile,[28] felt strengthened in their desire to abide by the righteousness of their faith. Under instructions from Verigin, the Large Party 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 refused to swear the oath of allegiance required in 1894 by the newly ascended Tsar Nicholas II.[13][26]

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 psalms and spiritual songs, government Cossacks arrested and beat them. Shortly after, the government billeted Cossacks in many of the Large Party's villages; around 4,000 Doukhobors were forced to disperse to villages in other parts of Georgia. Many died of starvation and exposure.[26][29]

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[30]

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 conditions:

  • emigrants should never return;
  • emigrants must emigrate at their own expense;
  • community leaders currently in prison or exile in Siberia must serve the balance of their sentences before they could leave Russia.[13]

Emigrants initially attempted to settle in Cyprus. Cyprus was, at the time, recognized as a possession of the Ottoman Empire, but in the wake of the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), the Ottoman Empire had granted the United Kingdom the right to administer the island in exchange for support in its continuing conflict with the Russian Empire. This fact made the potential settlement of the Russian Doukhobors a politically-sensitive question among some in the British government, but after Quaker supporters both made assurances of the Doukhobors' political inoffensiveness and provided financial guarantees against their potential indigency, officials permitted over 1,000 Doukhobors to establish farming settlements in several locations on the island beginning in the second half of 1898. However, the Cyprus experiment soon proved to be disastrous: beset by disease (made worse by insufficient food that met the Doukhobors' religious requirements) as well as internal disagreements over community organization, nearly ten percent of the colony died by early 1899.[citation needed]

Canada offered more land, transportation, and aid to resettle in the Saskatchewan area. Around 6,000 Doukhobors emigrated there in the first half of 1899, settling on land granted to them by the government in modern-day Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. The Cyprus colony and others joined them, and around 7,500 Russian Doukhobor emigrants—about a third of their number in Russia—arrived in Canada by the end of the year.[31] Several smaller groups joined the main body of emigrants in later years, coming directly from Transcaucasia and other places of exile.[26] Among these latecomers were 110 leaders of the community who had to complete their sentences before being allowed to emigrate.[31] By 1930, about 8,780 Doukhobors had migrated from Russia to Canada.[32]

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. Tolstoy also raised money from wealthy friends; his efforts provided about 30,000 rubles, half of the emigration fund. The anarchist Peter Kropotkin and professor of political economy at the University of Toronto James Mavor also helped the emigrants.[33][34]

The emigrants adapted to life in agricultural communes; they were mostly of peasant origin and had low regard for advanced education. [b] Many worked as loggers, lumbermen, and carpenters. Eventually, many left the communal dormitories and became private farmers on the Canadian plains. Religious a cappella singing, pacifism, and passive resistance were markers of the sect. One subgroup occasionally demonstrated naked, typically as a protest against compulsory military service.[36] Their policies made them controversial. The modern descendants of the first wave of Doukhobor emigrants continue to live in southeastern British Columbia communities such as Krestova, and in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. As of 1999, the estimated population of Doukhobor descent in North America was 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, modelled on those in the Old World.

In accordance with the Dominion Lands Act of 1872, for a nominal fee of CA$10, the Canadian government would grant 160 acres (0.65 km2) of land to any male homesteader who was able to establish a working farm on that land within three years. Single-family homesteads would not fit the Doukhobors' communitarian tradition but a "Hamlet Clause" within the Act had been adopted 15 years earlier to accommodate other communitarian groups such as Mennonites. The clause allowed beneficiaries of the Act to live in a hamlet within 3 miles (4.8 km) from their land rather than on the land itself.[37] This allowed the Doukhobors to establish a communal lifestyle similar to that of the Hutterites. Also, by passing Section 21 of the Dominion Military Act in late 1898, the Canadian Government exempted the Doukhobors from military service.[37]

The land for the Doukhobor immigrants, in total 773,400 acres (3,130 km2) within what was to soon become the Province of Saskatchewan, came in three block settlement areas or "reserves", and an annex:[38]

  • The North Colony, also known as the "Thunder Hill Colony" or "Swan River Colony" in the Pelly and Arran districts of Saskatchewan 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. 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, and settled there in eight villages on 168,930 acres (683.6 km2) of land grant. The annex was along the Good Spirit River, which flows into Good Spirit Lake (previously known as Devil's Lake).
  • The Saskatchewan Colony, also known as the "Rosthern Colony",[37] "Prince Albert Colony" and "Duck Lake Colony" was located along 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.

North and South Colonies, and Good Spirit Lake Annex, were located around Yorkton near the modern-day border with Manitoba; the Saskatchewan (Rosthern) Colony was located north-west of Saskatoon, a significant distance from the other three reserves.[citation needed]

In 1899, all four reserves formed part of the Northwest Territories: Saskatchewan (Rosthern) Colony in the territories' provisional District of Saskatchewan. North Reserve straddled the boundary of Saskatchewan and Assiniboia districts, and the other reserves were entirely in Assiniboia. After the establishment of the Province of Saskatchewan in 1905, all reserves were located within that province.[citation needed]

Doukhobor women pulling a plow, Thunder Hill Colony, Manitoba

Verigin persuaded his followers to free their animals, and pull their wagons and plows themselves. On the lands granted to them in the prairies, the settlers established Russian-style villages, some of which received Russian names after settlers' home villages in Transcaucasia; for example Spasovka, Large and Small Gorelovka, and Slavianka; while others gained more abstract "spiritual" names not common in Russia, such as Uspeniye (Dormition), Terpeniye (Patience), Bogomdannoye (Given by God), and Osvobozhdeniye (Liberation).[38] The settlers found Saskatchewan winters much harsher than those in Transcaucasia, and expressed disappointment 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.[37] The earliest arrivals came from three backgrounds, had varying commitments to communal life, and 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.[39][40]


Canadians, politicians, and the media were deeply suspicious of the Doukhobors. Their communal lifestyle seemed suspicious, their refusal to send children to school was considered deeply troubling, while pacifism caused anger during the First World War. The oppression of the Russian Tsarist regime had entrenched its resulting pacifist beliefs into the Doukhobour tenets and they did not waver with the onset of either World War. Some Canadians who were willing to go to war did not respect a sect of people that were excused from military service. This difference in perspective produced much political prejudice towards the Doukhobours. Tumultuous political posturing and years of polarized social disagreements eventually brought some Doukhobours to the point of protests aimed at maintaining their simple, non-materialistic, and autonomous communal living. The Doukhobor faction known as Sons of Freedom conducted nude marches and carried out night-time arson attacks, which was considered unacceptable and offensive.[41] Canadian magazines showed strong curiosity, giving special attention to women's bodies and clothing. Magazines and newspapers carried stories and photographs of Doukhobor women engaging in hard farm labour, doing "women's work", wearing the traditional ethnic dress, and in partial or total states of undress.[42] Doukhobors received financial help from Quakers. Clifford Sifton, the Minister of the Interior, wanted the Doukhobors in Canada; he arranged financial subsidies to allow them to migrate.[43]

Loss of land rights


Due to the community's aversion to private ownership of land, Verigin had the land registered in the name of the community. By 1906, the Canadian Government's new Minister of the Interior Frank Oliver started requiring the registration of land in the name of individual owners. Many Doukhobors refused to comply, resulting 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.



Ten years after the Russian conscription crisis, another political issue arose because the Doukhobors would have to become naturalized British citizens and swear an Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown—something that had always been against their principles.[44]

The issue resulted in a three-way split of the Doukhobor community in Canada:[13]

  • The edinolichniki (единоличники: individual farmers, called "Independent Doukhobors"), who in 1907 comprised 10% of the Canadian Doukhobors, maintained their religion but abandoned communal ownership of land and rejected hereditary leadership and communal living as non-essential to it.
  • The obshchinnye (общинные: communal, or "Community Doukhobors") were largest group, sometimes called "orthodox Doukhobors" (not to be confused with the Russian Orthodox Church), originally led by their spiritual leader Peter V. Verigin. They formed the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB), which reformed in 1939 as the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC), headquartered in Grand Forks, British Columbia, publishing a monthly journal Iskra since 1943.[45]
  • The svobodniki (free, sovereign people) in 1902 tried to return to Russia, refused to obey laws, and attacked law-abiding Doukhobors. They became the famous dissident "Sons of Freedom", also called "Freedomites" by the media. They misinterpreted P. V. Verigin's writings in such a zealous manner that he banned them. The media and government mistakenly confused them with all Canadian Doukhobors when reporting their sensational protests.[46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53]

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

British Columbia and Verigin's assassination


In 1908, to remove his followers from the corrupting influence of non-Doukhobors and edinolichniki (individual owners) Doukhobors, and to find better conditions for agriculture, Verigin bought large tracts of land in south-eastern British Columbia. His first purchase was around Grand Forks near the US border. He later acquired large tracts of land further east in the Slocan Valley around Castlegar. Between 1908 and 1912, about 8,000 people moved from Saskatchewan to these British Columbia lands to continue their communal way of living.[38] 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

On October 29, 1924, Peter V. Verigin was killed in a bomb explosion on a scheduled passenger train en route to British Columbia. The government had initially stated the bombing was perpetrated by people within the Doukhobor community, although no arrests were made because of the Doukhobors' customary refusal to cooperate with Canadian authorities due to fear of intersect violence. It is still unknown who was responsible for the bombing. While the Doukhobors were initially welcomed by the Canadian government, this assassination, as well as Doukhobors' beliefs regarding communal living, their intolerance for schooling, and other beliefs considered offensive or unacceptable, created a decades-long mistrust between government authorities and Doukhobors.[54]

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" (Chistiakov) and worked to smooth relations between the Community Doukhobors and wider Canadian society. The governments in Ottawa and the western provinces concluded he was the closet leader of the Sons of Freedom and was perhaps a dangerous Bolshevik. The governments decided to deport him, use the justice system to impose conformity to Canadian values on the Doukhobors, and force them to abide by Canadian law and repudiate unacceptable practices. With a legal defence managed by Peter Makaroff, the deportation effort failed in 1933.[55][56] The Sons of Freedom repudiated Verigin's policies as ungodly and assimilationist, and escalated their protests. The Sons of Freedom burnt Community Doukhobors' property and organized more nude parades. In 1932, the Parliament of Canada responded by criminalizing public nudity. Over 300 radical Doukhobor men and women were arrested for this offence, which typically carried a three-year prison sentence.[37]

Doukhobors could not vote in British Columbia until 1952. They were the last ethnic or religious community to be granted suffrage in the province.[57]

Nudism and arson


The Sons of Freedom, a break away protest sect identifying as svodoniki (sovereign, free people) in 1902, used nudism and arson as visible methods of protest.[58] 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, which continued into the 1970s. Nudism was first used after the Doukhobors' arrival in Canada.[36] They used violence to fight modernity, and destroyed threshing machines and other signs of modernity. The group conducted night-time arson attacks on schools built by the Doukhobor commune and Verigin's house.[54] The highly publicized acts by the Sons of Freedom were repeatedly mislabeled with the word "Doukhobor", confusing the different groups and anguishing many law biding assimilated descendants of Canadian Doukhobors.[46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53]

During 1947 and 1948, Sullivan's Royal Commission investigated acts of arson and bombing attacks in British Columbia and recommended several 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 government agents in a residential school in New Denver, British Columbia. Abuse of the interned children was later alleged.[59][60]

In less than fifty years, the Sons of Freedom committed 1,112 separate acts of violence and arson, costing over $20 million in damages; these acts include bombing and arson attacks on public schools, bombings of Canadian railway bridges and tracks,[61] the bombing of a courthouse at Nelson,[62] and the destruction of a power transmission tower servicing East Kootenay district, resulting in the loss of 1,200 jobs. Many of the independent and community Doukhobors believed the Sons of Freedom's arson and bombings violated the Doukhobor central principle of nonviolence, and that they did not deserve to be called Doukhobors.[46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53]

Doukhobors remaining in Russia


After the departure of the more zealous and uncompromising Doukhobors, and many community leaders, to Canada at the close of the Elisabethpol Governorate in the Caucasus Viceroyalty (now Azerbaijan), the former Doukhobor villages became mostly repopulated by Baptists. Elsewhere, some Doukhobors joined nearby Spiritual Christian groups.[24]

Those who remained Doukhobors were required to submit to the state. Few protested against military service; of 837 Russian court-martial cases against conscientious objectors recorded between the beginning of World War I and April 1, 1917, 16 had Doukhobor defendants, none of whom hailed from the Transcaucasian provinces.[24] Between 1921 and 1923, Verigin's son Peter P. Verigin arranged the resettlement of 4,000 Doukhobors from the Ninotsminda (Bogdanovka) district in south Georgia to Rostov Oblast in southern Russia, and another 500 into Zaporizhzhia Oblast in Ukraine.[26][63]

The Soviet reforms greatly affected the lives of the Doukhobors, both in their old villages in Georgia and in the new settlement areas in southern Russian and Ukraine. State anti-religious campaigns resulted in the suppression of Doukhobor religious tradition, and the loss of books and archival records. Many religious leaders were arrested or exiled; for example, 18 people were exiled from Gorelovka in 1930.[26] Communists' imposition of collective farming did not contradict the Doukhobor way of life. Industrious Doukhobors made their collective farms prosperous, often specializing in cheesemaking.[26]

Of the Doukhobor communities in the Soviet Union, those in South Georgia were the most sheltered from outside influence because of their geographic isolation in mountainous terrain, their location near the international border, and concomitant travel restrictions for outsiders.[26]



Doukhobor oral holy hymns, which they call the "Book of Life" (Russian: Zhivotnaya kniga), de facto replaced the written Bible. Their teaching is founded on this tradition.[64][65] The Book of Life of the Doukhobors (1909) is the first printed hymnal containing songs in the Southern Russian dialect, which were composed to be sung aloud. Their prayer meetings and gatherings are dominated by the singing of a cappella psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.[65]



Current population


In 2001, an estimated 20,000–40,000 people of Doukhobor heritage lived in Canada, 3,800 of whom claimed "Doukhobor" as their religious affiliation. An estimated 30,000 people of Doukhobor heritage live in Russia and neighbouring countries. In 2011, there were 2,290 persons in Canada who identified their religious affiliation as "Doukhobor"; in Russia there were 50 such persons by the mid-2000s.



CCUB, the Orthodox Doukhobors organization or Community Doukhobors, was succeeded by the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC) formed by Peter P. Verigin, Peter V. Verigin's son, in 1938.[66] The largest and most active formal Doukhobor organization, it is headquartered in Grand Forks, British Columbia.[67]

During the Canada 2011 Census,[68] 2,290 persons in Canada—of whom 1,860 in British Columbia, 200 in Alberta, 185 in Saskatchewan, and 25 in Ontario—identified their religious affiliation as "Doukhobor". 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

Twenty-eight percent of the self-identified Doukhobors in 2001 were over 65 (born before 1936), as compared to 12% of the entire population of Canadian respondents. The aging of the denomination is accompanied by its shrinkage, starting in the 1960s:[68][69]

Census year Self-identified Doukhobor population
1921 12,674
1931 14,978
1941 16,898
1951 13,175
1961 13,234
1971 9,170
1981.g., 28% ? coded as "Doukhobor, Orthodox" and "Doukhobor, Reformed"
1991 4,820
2001 3,800
2011 2,290
2021 1,675

The number of Canadians with Doukhobor heritage is much higher than the number of those who consider themselves members of this religion. In 2012, Doukhobor researchers estimated there were "over 20,000" people "from [Doukhobor] stock" in Canada[69] and over 40,000 Doukhobors by "a wider definition of religion, ethnicity, way of life, and social movement".[70][page needed]

Canadian Doukhobors no longer live communally. Doukhobors do not practice baptism, neither wet nor dry, nor require one to be "born again". 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 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.[71]

Georgia and Russia


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; Bogdanovka became Ninotsminda, Troitskoe became Sameba. According to various estimates, in Ninotsminda District, the Doukhobor population fell from around 4,000 in 1979 to between 3,000 and 3,500 in 1989, and around 700 in 2006. In Dmanisi district, it fell from around 700 Doukhobors in 1979 to no more than 50 by the mid-2000s. Most of those who remain in Georgia are older people; the younger generation 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 former Soviet Union countries.[26]

Ecumenical relations


The Doukhobors have maintained a close association with Mennonites and Quakers due to similar religious practices; all of these groups are collectively considered to be peace churches due to their belief in pacifism.[72][73][74]

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.[75] The site 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 1,000 artifacts representing the arts, crafts, and daily lives of the Doukhobors of the Kootenays in 1908–38.[76][77]

Although most of the early Doukhobor village structures in British Columbia have vanished or been significantly remodelled by later users, a part of Makortoff Village outside Grand Forks, British Columbia has been preserved as a museum by Peter Gritchen, who purchased the property in 1971 and opened it as Mountain View Doukhobor Museum on June 16, 1972. The site's future became uncertain after his death in 2000 but in March 2004, in cooperation with local organizations and concerned citizens, The Land Conservancy of British Columbia purchased the historical site known as Hardy Mountain Doukhobor Village while Boundary Museum Society acquired the museum collection and loaned it to TLC for display.[78]

The Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa has a collection of Doukhobor-related items. A special exhibition there was run in 1998–99 to mark the centennial anniversary of the Doukhobor arrival in Canada.[79]

Linguistic history and dialect


The Doukhobors took with them to Canada a Southern Russian dialect, which in the following decades changed under the influence of Canadian English and the speech of the Ukrainian settlers in Saskatchewan. Over several generations, this dialect has been mostly lost because the modern descendants of the original Doukhobor migrants to Canada are typically native English speakers; when they speak Russian, it is typically a fairly standard variety.[5]

Linguistic history


In 1802, 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 neighbouring settlements of anabaptists from Germany.[19][80] Over the next 10 or 20 years, the Doukhobors and others, mostly speaking a variety of Southern Russian dialects, arrived at the Molochna from several provinces, most of which are located in modern-day eastern Ukraine and south-central Russia.[81] In the settlers' villages, an opportunity for the formation of a dialect koiné based on Southern Russian and Eastern Ukrainian dialects arose.[5][82]

Starting in 1841, the Doukhobors and others were resettled from southern Ukraine to Transcaucasia, where they founded several villages surrounded by mostly non-Russian speaking neighbours—primarily Azerbaijanis in Elisabethpol Governorate, Armenians[83] 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 mainstream Russian.[5]

With the migration of 7,500 Doukhbors from Transcaucasia to Saskatchewan in 1899, and some smaller latecomer groups from both Transcaucasia and from places of exile in Siberia and elsewhere, the dialect spoken in the Doukhobor villages of Transcaucasia was taken to the plains of Canada. From that point, it experienced influence from Canadian English and, during the years of Doukhobor stay in Saskatchewan, the speech of their Ukrainian neighbours.[5][84][85]

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 communally for several decades, and had a better chance to preserve their Russian language than the Independent Doukhobors, who stayed in Saskatchewan as individual farmers.[5]

By the 1970s, as most Russian-born members of the community died, English became the first language of the great majority of Canadian Doukhobors.[86][69] 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 purposes, among those who practice the Doukhobor religion.[5]

Features of the Doukhobor Russian dialect in Canada


Research into the Russian spoken by Canada's Doukhobors has not been extensive but several articles, mostly published in the 1960s and 1970s, noted a variety of features in Doukhobors' Russian speech that were characteristic of Southern, and in some cases Central Russian dialects; for example, use of the Southern [h] where Standard Russian has [g].[82][87]

Features characteristic of many locales in the East Slavic language space were noted, reflecting the heterogeneous origin of the Doukhobors' settlements in Molochna River after 1800; for example, like Belarusians, Doukhobor speakers do not palatalize [r] in "редко" (redko, 'seldom'). Remarkable was the dropping of the final -t in the third-person singular form of verbs, which can be considered a Ukrainian feature and is also attested in some Russian dialects spoken in Southern Ukraine (e.g., Nikolaev near the Doukhobors' former homeland on the Molochna). As with other immigrant groups, the Russian speech of the Doukhobors uses English loanwords for some concepts they had not encountered until moving to Canada.[21]: 74 [87]

  • Russel, Eric Frank (1962), The Great Explosion, United States: Dodd, Mead and Company, p. 187 A 1962 Eric Frank Russell science-fiction novel, The Great Explosion, adapted and expanded from his 1951 novella "...And Then There Were None", mentions the Doukhobors as a group of interstellar settlers on the planet Hygeia who had been marginalized by later naturist settlers.
  • Roy, Gabrielle (1975), "Hoodoo Valley", Garden in the wind (novel), McClelland & Stewart, pp. 107+.
  • Heinlein, Robert A. (March 1952), H. L. Gold (ed.), "The Year of the Jackpot", Galaxy Magazine : Science Fiction, vol. 3, no. 6, p. 10. — A short story that falsely mentions nudists as: "those people up in Canada. Dooka-somethings. Doukhobors."
  • O'Neail, Hazel (1962), Doukhobor Daze, Gray's, Evergreen. — Humorous memoir of young school teacher of Doukhobor kids in rural Brilliant, B.C., with antics and transliteration of their English dialect.
  • Plotnikoff, Vi (2001). Head Cook at Weddings and Funerals, And Other Stories of Doukhobor Life (novel). Raincoast Books..
  • Stenson, Bill (2007). Svoboda (novel). Thistledown Press. ISBN 978-1-897235-30-0..[88] — Review with lesson plan for teachers.






  • Reynolds, Malvina (1962), "Do As the Doukhobors Do", The Best of Broadside 1962–88 (originally The Doukhobor Do) is about the Doukhobor nude protests. The song was recorded by Pete Seeger.
  • In the bonus track "Ferdinand the Imposter" on the 2000 re-issue of Music from Big Pink by the Canadian roots-rock group The Band, the title character "claimed he was a Doukhobor" after being arrested.[89] The implication in the lyrics is that Ferdinand may have been apprehended for some public display of nudity in Baltimore, Maryland. He attempted to escape punishment by stating he came from the Doukhobors of Canada. Unfortunately for Ferdinand, the American officers were unfamiliar with the group and were unmoved by Ferdinand's plea.[90]


  • Woodcock, George (1976), The Doukhobors (film), CBC/NFB. Two parts: The Living Book and Toil and Peaceful Life.[91]


  1. ^ Nikifor was styled "Archbishop of Slavyansk and Kherson" (Славенский и Херсонский), while his successor, who was also called Ambrosius, was "Archbishop of Yekaterinoslav and Kherson" because the diocese was renamed in 1786.[17] The seat of the archbishops was in Poltava.
  2. ^ 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".[35]


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  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWood, James, ed. (1907). "Doukhobours". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne.


  • Bartolf, Christian / Dominique Miething: "Flame of Truth": the global significance of Doukhobor Pacifism. Russian Journal of Church History, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Special Issue: History of Christian Peacemaking and Pacifism, Editor: Dr. Nadezhda Beliakova) (2023): 6-27. PDF
  • Chertkov, Vladimir (1911). "Doukhobors" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 448–49.
  • Elkinton, Joseph, The Doukhobors: their history in Russia; their migration to Canada.
  • Friesen, John W.; Verigin, Michael M. (1996) [1986], The Community Doukhobors: A People in Transition (2nd ed.), Ontario: Borealis Press, ISBN 0-88887-151-1.
  • Hamm, James 'Jim' (2002), Spirit Wrestlers (documentary video) about the Freedomite Doukhobors.
  • Hawthorn, Harry B, The Doukhobors of British Columbia.
  • Holt, Simma. Terror in the Name of God The Story of the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors (McClelland and Stewart, 1964)
  • Peacock, Kenneth, ed. (1970), Songs of the Doukhobors: An Introductory Outline, National Museums of Canada Bulletin No. 231, Folklore Series No. 7, translated by E. A. Popoff (song texts), Ottawa: The National Museums of Canada; Queen's Printer of Canada, archived from the original (PDF) on April 5, 2023
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. (1999). "Doukbhobors". In Paul Robert Magocsi (ed.). Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples. University of Toronto Press. pp. 422–34. ISBN 978-0-8020-2938-6.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J, Plakun Trava: The Doukhobors
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. (2002), "Overview", Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers' Strategies for Living, Ottawa: Legas (published 2006), ISBN 1-896031-12-9.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J.; Klymasz, Robert B. (1995), Spirit Wrestlers: centennial papers in honour of Canada's Doukhobor Heritage, ISBN 0-660-14034-9.
  • Thorsteinson, Elina (1917). "The Doukhobors in Canada". Mississippi Valley Historical Review. 4 (1): 3–48. doi:10.2307/1886809. JSTOR 1886809.
  • Woodcock, George; Avakumovic, Ivan, The Doukhobors.
  • Makarova V. (2012). The use of Russian in contemporary Doukhobor prayer service. In: International scientific research Internet conference "Current issues in philology and methods of teaching foreign languages", February 1–29, 2012, Novosibirsk, Russia. Международнaя научно-практическая Интернет-конференция «Актуальные проблемы филологии и методики преподавания иностранных языков», 1 февраля - 29 февраля 2012 года; Archived December 4, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  • Makarova V. A., Usenkova, E.V., Evdokimova, V.V. Evgrafova, K. V. (2011). The Language of Saskatchewan Doukhobors: Introduction to analysis. Izvestija Vysshix uchebnyx zavedenij [The News of Higher Schools]. Serija Gumanitarnyje nauki [Humanities]. Razdel Lingvistika [Linguistics section]. Vol 2 (2), pp. 146–151. Archived March 16, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  • Schaarschmidt Gunter (University of Victoria, Canada) Four norms – one culture: Doukhobor Russian in Canada
  • Schaarschmidt, G. (2012). Russian language history in Canada. Doukhobor internal and external migrations: effects on language development and structure. In: V. Makarova (Ed), Russian Language Studies in North America: the New Perspectives from Theoretical and Applied Linguistics . London/New York: Anthem Press. pp. 235–260.

Further reading

  • Burnham, Dorothy K (1986), Unlike the Lilies: Doukhobor Textile Traditions in Canada, Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Royal Ontario Museum, ISBN 0-88854-322-0.
  • Cran, Gregory J. Negotiating Buck Naked: Doukhobors, Public Policy, and Conflict Resolution (UBC Press, 2006) 180 pp. deals only with the Sons of Freedom.
  • Donskov, Andrew; Woodsworth, John; Gaffield, Chad (2000), The Doukhobor Centenary in Canada: A Multi-Disciplinary Perspective on Their Unity and Diversity (proceedings of a conference held at the University of Ottawa, 22–24 October 1999), Ottawa: Slavic Research Group at the University of Ottawa, ISBN 0-88927-276-X.
  • Holt, Simma (1964), Terror in the Name of God: The story of the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors, Toronto/Montreal: McClelland & Stewart.
  • Janzen, William (1990), Limits on Liberty: The Experience of Mennonite, Hutterite, and Doukhobor Communities in Canada, Toronto; Buffalo: U of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-2731-8.
  • Kalmakoff, Jonathan. "The Hyas Doukhobour Settlement", Saskatchewan History (2007) 59#2 pp 27–34. covers 1902 to 1907.
  • Livanov, Feodor Vasilyevich, Early Dukhabors Archived February 19, 2022, at the Wayback Machine, English translation by Daniel H. Shubin, 2021. ISBN 978-1-300-34255-7
  • Makarova, V (2013), Doukhobor nudism: exploring the socio-cultural roots. Culture and Religion.
  • ——— (February 1–29, 2012), The use of Russian in contemporary Doukhobor prayer service Актуальные проблемы филологии и методики преподавания иностранных языков [Current issues in philology and methods of teaching foreign languages], International scientific research Internet conference, Novosibirsk, Russia, archived from the original on December 4, 2012, retrieved June 18, 2012
  • Makarova, VA; Usenkova, EV; Evdokimova, VV; Evgrafova, KV (2011), "The Language of Saskatchewan Doukhobors: Introduction to analysis. Izvestija Vysshix uchebnyx zavedenij [The News of Higher Schools]. Serija Gumanitarnyje nauki [Humanities]. Razdel Lingvistika [Linguistics section]", Philology & Linguistics, 2 (2), RU: ISUCT: 146–51, archived from the original on March 16, 2016, retrieved June 18, 2012.
  • Maude, Aylmer (1905), A Peculiar People: the Doukhobors, Constable, London.
  • Mealing, Francis Mark (1975), Doukhobor Life: A Survey of Doukhobor Religion, History, & Folklife, Kootenay Doukhobor Historical Society.
  • Morrell, Kathy. "The Life of Peter P. Verigin." Saskatchewan History (2009) 61#1 pp 26–32. covers 1928 to 1939.
  • O'Neail, Hazel (1994), Doukhobor Daze, Surrey, BC: Heritage House, ISBN 1-895811-22-8.
  • Rak, Julie (2004), Negotiated Memory: Doukhobor Autobiographical Discourse, Vancouver: UBC Press, ISBN 0-7748-1030-0.
  • Rozinkin, W. M. The Doukhobor Saga. [Nelson, B.C.: News Publishing Co.], 1974.
  • Schaarschmidt, G. 2012. Russian language history in Canada. Doukhobor internal and external migrations: effects on language development and structure. In: V. Makarova (Ed), Russian Language Studies in North America: the New Perspectives from Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. London/New York: Anthem Press.pp 235–260.
  • Sorokin, Stephan Sebastian, and Steve Lapshinoff. Doukhobor Problem. Crescent Valley, B.C.: Steve Lapshinoff, 1990.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J (1977), Traditional Doukhobor Folkways: An Ethnographic and Biographic Record of Prescribed Behaviour, Mercury, Ottawa: National Museums of Canada.
  • Tracie, Carl. Toil and Peaceful Life: Doukhobor Village Settlement in Saskatchewan, 1899–1918. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina, 1996. ISBN 0-88977-100-6
  • Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ. Hospitality: Vegetarian Cooking the Doukhobor Way. Grand Forks, B.C.: USCC Centennial Cookbook Committee, 2003. ISBN 0-9732514-0-9
  • Woodsworth, John. Russian Roots and Canadian Wings: Russian Archival Documents on the Doukhobor Emigration to Canada. Canada/Russia series, v. 1. [Manotick, Ont.]: Penumbra Press, 1999. ISBN 0-921254-89-X
  • Shulgan, Christopher (June 12, 2008). "How the Doukhobors brought democracy to the USSR". The Walrus. Archived from the original on September 19, 2021. Retrieved September 19, 2021.