Saskatchewan Doukhobors are an integral part of the 7,500 Russian dissidents from Transcaucasia who, in 1899, emigrated to Canada because of their pacifist and anti-church beliefs. In the face of English assimilation and secularization, these Saskatchewan citizens (15,000 out of 40,000 in Canada) have survived remarkably well. Their sobranies (gatherings of people for religious, social, and business purposes) in community homes still persist in Kamsack, Veregin, Blaine Lake, Langham, and Saskatoon. Unique a cappella singing can be heard in these homes. A museum and heritage village in Veregin has been designated as a National Heritage Site; it attracts visitors and serves as a focal point for the annual Peace Day, commemorating the 1895 arms burning in Tsarist Russia.
With the pull of the university, along with good leadership and student initiatives (e.g., holding seminars and publishing the monthly journal The Inquirer, and later The Dove), Saskatoon has become a magnet for Doukhobor activities in the province. Beginning in the early 1950s, Doukhobors constructed their own community centre, and established a pioneer dwelling and a successful brick oven bread-baking project at the Western Development Museum. Every year, during the city’s week-long exhibition, local volunteers produce thousands of loaves of freshly baked bread; their sales bring in enough money to finance national and international causes.
Doukhobors do not believe in creeds—nor do they rely on any formal church, the Bible, priests, or sacraments. The sole exception is the appearance in official religious and business functions of a loaf of bread, a bowl of salt, and a jug of water. These emblems are simply meant to affirm the slogan “Toil and Peaceful Life.” In a manner similar to the Quakers, Doukhobors believe in the Spirit Within or the God Within. Because people have the spark of divinity in them, they argue, it is wrong to kill another human being. As an expression of their inner values, Saskatchewan Doukhobors continue to commemorate the annual Peace Day, take part in peace marches, and support petitions for nonviolent action. Their values of hospitality, kindness towards others, co-operation, creativity, compassion, and hard work persist to this day.
Koozma J. Tarasoff