is a Russian term that, when translated, means "Spirit
Wrestler." The name Doukhobor was bestowed upon the Doukhobor
peoples by Russian authorities during the 18th century when the
Doukhobors refused to give up their faith in favour of the
Orthodox Church and resisted performing what was then mandatory
military service in the Russian Imperial Army.
In 1895, after refusing to serve in the Tsar's army and
oath of allegiance to the Tsar, Russian Doukhobors set fire to all
of their own guns and knives in a protest against
actions infuriated the Imperial administration and led to increased
persecution by the Tsar's agents. With the
assistance of the great Russian writer Lev Tolstoy and other
pacifist groups such as the Quakers, 7500 Doukhobors emigrated to
Canada in 1899, hoping to establish bloc settlements and start a
more peaceful life where they were free to practice their beliefs.
Unfortunately, the experience of the Doukhobors in Canada has
been, at times, difficult
and tragic. By 1905, after enduring the hardships of
establishing three agricultural bloc settlements in Saskatchewan,
the Doukhobors had become the largest communal settlement in North
America. However, their convictions were at odds with the
economic and political views of others who saw free enterprise and
military service as essentials for Canadian society. With
Clifford Sifton as Minister of Immigration, compromises between
the Canadian government and the Doukhobors were realized.
Sifton was replaced by Alberta's Frank Oliver, the tide turned.
Methodist minister John McDougall headed a land
commission that recommended communal landholding be
abolished. Doukhobors were required to take an oath of
allegiance to the Crown before they would be eligible for free
homesteads. In conscience and believing that this would end
their exemption from military duty, most Doukhobors refused. As a
result of their refusal to comply with government officials, three-quarters of their
was sold at public auction.
The effects of the government's policy
on landholding dealt a devastating blow to the Doukhobors and
split the group in three. Independent Doukhobors, who affirmed their
allegiance rather than take
the oath, were allowed to keep their
homesteads while Community (Orthodox) Doukhobors lost most
of their lands and moved with their leader, Peter Veregin, to a new settlement in
southern British Columbia, where they were allowed to maintain
their communal lifestyle. Finally, The Sons of Freedom, a small
group of outspoken activists who fit in neither
group, were involved in notorious eccentric forms of protest
arson and marching in the nude. The Sons of Freedom became
outcasts within the Doukhobor community as the large majority of
Doukhobors reject extremism and violence as forms of expression.
The first Doukhobor settlements in Alberta were established in
1916 at Cowley and Lundbreck in southern Alberta. Families lived separately
but shared food preparation in a communal kitchen. Such communities would
continue to be established until the end of World War I at places
such as Nanton, Mossleigh, Arrowwood and near Wetaskiwin.
Overall, the Doukhobor population of Alberta remained much
smaller than its counterparts in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Like many rural
communities, younger generations of Doukhobors began to move to
the cities to pursue economic and educational opportunities. This has led to
marriage outside the Doukhobor community and a shift in
self-understanding and adherence to the ideals and practices of
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.