Group Maintenance and Ethnic Commitment

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Doukhobors/Koozma J. Tarasoff

Continuity among the Doukhobors begins with the family, which remains central to their culture. In the home they learn the traditional ideology, music, crafts, food, and hospitality. Today, many Doukhobors no longer find it necessary to read the psalms, sing hymns, or attend sobranie services on Sunday, provided that they demonstrate in everyday life the basic values of the God within, the commandment not to kill, and good neighbourliness characterized by hospitality and symbolized by bread, salt, and water. Others seek enrichment through support of their co-religionists in Canada and Russia. They find it in the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, the voice of community Doukhobors, and the Canadian Doukhobor Society, which represents independent Doukhobor thinking but has members from all the groups. Local, regional and youth organizations have also provided continuity. Without such grass-roots support, the future of the movement would be threatened.

The loss of their land in 1907, the Community Regulation Act of 1914, denial of the right to vote for Doukhobors in British Columbia until 1956, the foreclosure on CCUB property in 1938, and such actions against the Sons of Freedom as the seizure of their children in 1953–59 rallied the Doukhobors and alienated them from the rest of Canadian society. The Cold War of the 1950s to mid-1980s had a similar effect, leading some to change their names, marry outside the group, join churches, and distance themselves from their past. Recent developments have been more positive. Museums at Castlegar (established in 1971) and Grand Forks (1972) in British Columbia and at Verigin (1980) in Saskatchewan, all housed in reconstructed Doukhobor dwellings, display heritage materials. The Verigin facility features a two-storey community home built in 1918 and several pioneer dwellings in addition to the museum and has been designated as a national heritage village. The Doukhobor Village Museum in Castlegar, located near a bridge over the Kootenay River built by the Doukhobors in 1913 and refurbished in 1998 as a heritage project, includes a restaurant and food centre. The Fructova School in Grand Forks, constructed in 1929, was restored in 1985. Designated as the Doukhobor Historical Society of British Columbia, it carries out a broad program of cultural and historical activities.

Other undertakings have contributed to the maintenance of group identity. These include panel discussions and seminars, tours by choirs across North America and Russia, the commemoration of important anniversaries, language studies in Russia, and the hosting of Russian-speaking cultural groups in Canada. The first International Doukhobor Intergroup Symposium was held in June 1982 in cooperation with Society Rodina of Moscow. To commemorate the contribution of Tolstoy to the Doukhobor migration, the society, together with the ACRD, donated statues of the Russian author to the communities of Verigin and Castlegar in 1987. In conjunction with this event, the USCC held a heritage festival in Saskatchewan and British Columbia that featured a pageant depicting the Doukhobor history of persecution, exile, and migration to Canada. The ACRD, in cooperation with Selkirk College, in 1989 brought four prominent Soviet authors to Canada for a speaking and reading tour in the west in the company of Canadian authors. In exchange, individuals from Selkirk College lectured in Moscow and Tula three years later.

Choral workshops have stimulated interest in the art of a cappella singing. During the mid-1950s they were conducted in all the Doukhobor settlements in Saskatchewan by Gabriel W. Vereschagin. Alexander S. Shirokov of the Moscow academy of musicians came to Canada to assist choirs in British Columbia to prepare for Expo 86 in Vancouver. In 1991 Doukhobors in Saskatchewan made use of singers Peter and Lucy Voykin, who worked with district choirs, teaching them new hymns and psalms. Some eighty vocalists then combined to give concerts in Verigin and Saskatoon. The largest project was held during the 1995 centennial of the burning of firearms, when a sixty-member Voices for Peace Choir, composed of members from all three Doukhobor groups whose ages ranged from thirteen to seventy-four, toured North America and Russia giving bilingual concerts. Tours of Doukhobor villages and cultural institutions in the former Soviet Union, beginning in the 1970s, have stimulated return visits by Russian Doukhobors, an increased correspondence between the two communities, joint business ventures, and interest in working together in preparation for the centennial celebrations. Inspired by the Canadians, Russian Doukhobors in 1991 established a united organization and a youth group, produced an album of traditional singing, and took steps to republish Bonch-Bruevich’s book of life.

Government resources have also helped the Doukhobors to preserve their heritage. The multicultural policy of the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s, by recognizing the value of heritage languages, supported the teaching of Russian in the schools of Grand Forks and Castlegar. The Canadian Museum of Civilization engaged the services of ethnographer Koozma J. Tarasoff to edit a book about the group that included contributions by Doukhobor and non-Doukhobor authors and to prepare the background materials for a major exhibition entitled “The Doukhobors: ‘Spirit Wrestlers’” (1996–98). As well, several documentary films, an exhibition of photographs, dramatic productions, audio cassettes, and books on the movement have been produced. Archival, library, and photographic collections have all helped to define the nature of the Doukhobor experience by stimulating scholarly and popular research. The coming of perestroika in the former Soviet Union also had an indirect effect on the maintenance of group identity by providing international recognition for the Russian heritage, which the Doukhobors share.