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Migration

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

Doukhobor emigration from the Russian Empire dates to the late 1890s, when an appeal for help authorized by Tolstoy drew attention to the cruelty being perpetrated on the Doukhobors in Transcaucasia. Drawn up in 1896, it was signed by Paul I. Biryukov, whom Tolstoy had sent to the area to investigate the situation at first hand. Together with two other followers of Tolstoy, Ivan Tregubov and Vladimir Chertkov, he was exiled for his involvement in the affair. Chertkov went to England, where he established a publishing venture in Russian and in English. Through his activities, donations were made to the Doukhobor cause, including $17,000 from the proceeds of Tolstoy’s Resurrection. The Society of Friends (Quakers) took up the cause because they shared the Doukhobors’ abhorrence of war, the swearing of oaths, outward sacraments, and a separate priesthood. Finally, in February 1898, the tsar granted the persecuted dissidents permission to leave Russia.

Among the destinations considered were Chinese Turkistan, Manchuria, Syria, Egypt, Texas, Hawaii, Central America, and Brazil. However, only Cyprus, which had been under British rule since 1878, was available as an immediate refuge; here 1,126 Doukhobors, with the assistance of the Quakers, found a temporary haven in the summer of 1898. As a more permanent location, Canada seemed to provide the most promise. The anarchist leader Pyotr Kropotkin, who had visited Toronto in 1897 to attend a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, was impressed by Mennonite settlements in the Canadian northwest. His views appealed to members of Chertkov’s committee, and he was invited to meeting with them and the Quakers administering the Doukhobor fund. James Mavor, professor of political economy at the University of Toronto, who was an expert on the prairies and a friend and admirer of Tolstoy and Kropotkin, was contacted. Kropotkin advised Mavor that the situation was desperate and that the remaining dissidents must leave from the port of Batumi at once. Three conditions were essential if the group was to emigrate to Canada: exemption from military service, complete independence in the organization of their community, and large blocks of land.

Mavor wrote to Clifford Sifton, minister of the interior in the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who had been actively promoting immigration to western Canada. The prosperity of the west depended on settlement along the route of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which had been completed in 1885. Since, in Tolstoy’s words, the Doukhobors were “the best farmers in Russia,” they were ideal immigrants. In 1898 a delegation of ten arrived in Canada to negotiate an agreement. The party included two Doukhobors, Ivan Ivin and Peter Makhortov, and their families, escorted by Prince D.A. Hilkov and Aylmer Maude, an Englishman who had spent many years in Moscow. The group considered a large territory in the Beaver Lake area near Edmonton as a possible location, but local opposition to non-British settlers put an end to the idea.

In the North-West Territories (now Saskatchewan), the delegates found three blocks of land that looked promising; they included some 162,000 hectares with excellent soil and a good water supply, in addition to 135,000 hectares of swamp and other non-arable land. The settlement of the Doukhobors on this territory was approved by Sifton. Each immigrant who reported to the immigration office in Winnipeg would receive a bonus of $5 and an additional $1.50 towards transportation costs. A grant of 65 hectares of arable land would be made to each male over the age of eighteen or head of household. A special committee was set up in Winnipeg to disburse the money placed in the Doukhobor fund, which was intended to assist the settlers after their arrival and help them to purchase any supplies needed for the establishment of their colonies. The Doukhobors’ request for recognition as conscientious objectors was granted by an order-in-council of 6 December 1898.

After these arrangements had been made, the Quaker committee chartered two ships, each of which made two voyages between December 1898 and the following June. In total, 7,500 Doukhobors arrived in Canada, of whom 65 percent were adults and the rest children (many of them under five years of age). Some 55 percent of the newcomers were females and 45 percent males. Despite this mass movement, however, over 12,000 Doukhobors remained in Russia, including members of the Middle Party, who refused to join the emigration because of disagreement over such issues as vegetarianism and sexual intercourse, which was proscribed by Peter Verigin. Exiled in Siberia, he did not come to Canada until late in 1902. As well, most of Michael Gubanov’s Small Party stayed in the Caucasus. Following the arrival of the Doukhobors in 1898–99, immigration to Canada virtually came to an end, except for small groups who arrived in 1905 and 1911.