Doukhobor made winter refuge huts
Assinibioa, Canada


Arrival in Assiniboia

By spring thaw, the majority of Doukhobors headed west yet again to the areas of lands granted by the Dominion. Some early pioneers arrived before hand and between a few large log cabins and huts cut into the banks of raised lands (and the banks of the Saskatchewan River), their new found territories were established.

The Doukhobors originally settled in two parcels of land; one near the Yorkton area of Assiniboia, and in two colonies - the North and South Colonies. (The North Colony retained the most of the persecuted Doukhobors from the arms burnings). Another colony was established in the Duck Lake area. The land granted to them totaled over 770,000 acres.


Women go for water
Assinibioa, Canada


This would not be new to the Doukhobors that had to face building on new lands. Remember that through the last few centuries in Russia, they had been forced by their government to continually sacrifice their hard-worked lands and move elsewhere, only to rebuild again in a new are, and then have to move elsewhere - primarily because of their religious beliefs.

The Assiniboia territory of what would soon become Saskatchewan was no different in that there were no roads, no bridges or ferries over waters that needed to be crossed. The virgin prairie ground had never before been cultivated, and there were no homes, and no villages. So after the spring thaw of 1899, most of the able bodied men left the villages to find paying work, leaving the women, children, and older men behind to build homes and villages.


Plowing with oxen
Circa 1900s
Canadian prairies

From the Autochrome Exhibit, Doukhobor Village Museum, Castlegar, BC


A lone Doukhobor plows the virgin Canadian prairies by oxen.


Women and children build Doukhobor Village
Assinibioa, Canada


In the early years, organization was difficult for the Doukhobors who earlier, relied on the advice of Peter Verigin's messages (while still in Russia) on how to pattern their communities. (During his exile in Russia, Verigin had instructed the Doukhobors who would be his followers, to return to a fully communal way of life). Some however, in the new communities, were not as poor as others, and not all agreed with Verigin's decrees.

In most cases though, the villages that were built, were modelled on a communal style, where although a large family may have a home built for that family, and each large family would in essence have their own dwelling, the communal spirit is what changed the way of life in the village. Men went away from the villages to work on the railway, to other farms in the area, or to gain whatever work that could be had, and brought back their earnings so that purchases of tools, livestock, or supplies could be made for the community.


Women Pull the Plow
Assinibioa, Canada


In a land where survival was the name of the game, there was no such discrimination as a 'weaker sex'. It was not an uncommon sight to see a team of women, as opposed to horses, pulling a plow.

This was not some sort of heathen or slavery ritual as interpreted by some writers of the time, or even some religious statement to absolve the beast of burden from its traditional role, but rather a necessary feat of survival because of the lack of livestock or work animals. (The aspect of releasing the 'beast of burden' from their traditional roles would however, play a part in the future politics of some of the Doukhobors).


Publicist Tolstoyan Vladimir Tchertkov


Another contribution that added fuel to the fire so to speak, was the publication by Vladimir Tchertkov of a book entitled "Handbook for Immigrants" which further incited distrust in the government, and discouraged the signing of any oaths, discouraged the registration of individual land ownership, and discouraged the registration of vital statistics (births, deaths, or marriages).


Zealot Trek
Near Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada


By October of 1902, the 'believers' grew in numbers from over a thousand to seventeen hundred and these fanatics abandoned their homes and villages, and began a trek to Yorkton, trying to convert those they met along the way.

Once reaching Yorkton, the officials (who had trouble understanding this phenomena, or any of the fanatic's discontent), with the help of the police, rounded them up and within a week, transferred most of the zealots back towards their villages. Within this group of fanatics were a few who would later become known as the founders of the Sons of Freedom.