Between 1899 and 1914, thousands of Doukhobors left their homeland of Russia to settle in Canada. The members of this pacifist group were opposed to military service and were well known for their extensive farming abilities. The turn of the 20th century was a time of prosperity and Canada’s western regions along the route of the Canadian Pacific Railway provided vast land parcels “en block” for the skilled agriculturalists to develop.
In February of 1898, the Russian Tsar granted permission to this group of conscientious objectors to leave Russia. A delegation of ten people arrived in Canada for an exploratory mission for the Doukhobors’ settlement. That party included Ivan Ivin and Peter Makhortov, the Prince D.A. Hilkov and Aylmer Maude.
The Doukhobors’ request for recognition as conscientious objectors to military service was granted by an order-in-council of 6 December 1898. Renowned Russian novelist and pacifist Leo Tolstoy who referred to the Doukhobors as the “Best Farmers in Russia”, as well as Peter Kropotkin and James Mavor, all played a key role in the settlement of the group.
The Society of Friends (Quakers) committee chartered two ships, each of which made two voyages to Canada from December 1898 to June 1899. In total, 7,500 Doukhobors arrived in Canada during the four voyages. There were three other waves of Doukhobor immigration to Canada; they took place between 1902 and 1906, 1910 and 1912 and 1925 and 1928. Upon the arrival of the first group in 1899, a special committee was set up in Winnipeg to administer the funds to assist the settlers in their establishment.
The original settlement of Doukhobor colonies took place in the Northwest Territories which would become the province of Saskatchewan in 1905. Four colonies were established in 1899: the North Colony (Thunder Hill), the South Colony (also known as Yorkton or Whitesand), the Good Spirit Lake Annex and the Saskatchewan Colony (also known as Prince Albert or as Duck Lake). One of their most renowned spiritual leaders, Peter Verigin, who had been exiled in Siberia, arrived in Canada in 1902. In 1907, a land dispute developed and resulted in the breaking up of the collectives. Between 1908 and 1911 a large number of the original settlers left Saskatchewan to follow Peter Verigin and to settle in British Columbia.
Today, the number of Doukhobors in Canada varies between 30,000 and 50,000, the largest number outside their homeland. Some 15,000 reside in British Columbia (Castlegar, Grand Forks and Vancouver), 11,000 in Saskatchewan (Verigin, Kamsack and Saskatoon) and 3,000 in Alberta (Calgary and the original settlements of Cowley and Lundbreck).
Research at Library and Archives Canada
Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers (LI-RA-MA) collection (MG 30 E406)
Material consists of documents created between 1898 and 1922 by the consular offices of the Russian Empire in Canada. The series on passports and identity papers is comprised of about 11,400 files on Russian, Jewish, Ukrainian, Finnish and Polish immigrants who came to Canada from the Russian Empire. The series includes passport applications and questionnaires containing general information.
Immigration Branch: Central Registry Files
Fred N. Davidoff 1944-1970 (MG 31 H26) (MIKAN 102610)
This fonds consists of notes, autobiography, correspondence, mainly with Doukhobor leaders and the R.C.M.P. and also printed material such as periodicals and books on the history of the Doukhobors, 1944-1970.
James Mavor 1898-1899, 1922 (MG 29 C16) (MIKAN 102526)
This fonds consists of correspondence between Professor Mavor and Canadian and Russian authorities regarding Doukhobor immigration to Canada, 1898-1899 and correspondence between Mavor and Colonel J.B. Maclean regarding immigration, 1922.
James Frederick Wright (MG 30 C23) (MIKAN 98271)
This fonds consists of narratives and notes based on interviews with Doukhobors and partly on translations of Russian material relating to Doukhobor life in Russia, their plans for emigration, their arrival in Canada in 1899 and the career of Peter Veregin, 1858-1924.
Other Series of Records
Library and Archives Canada also holds other records regarding Doukhobors. Consult the Archives Search database using keywords such as a surname or an organization name.
Research in Other Institutions
Alberta Heritage Community Foundation
British Columbia Archives
Provincial Archives of Alberta
Saskatchewan Genealogical Society
Saskatchewan Homestead Index
Saskatchewan Settlement Experience
Simon Fraser University Library
Research in Published Sources
1853 Tax Register of Doukhobors in the Caucasus, by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, 2004.
1918 Census of Independent Doukhobors: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, 2002.
A peculiar people: the Doukhobors, by Aylmer Maude, 1905.
Doukhobor ship passenger lists, 1898-1928, by Steve Lapshinoff and Jonathan Kalmakoff, 2001.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples, edited by Paul Robert Magocsi, 1999.
Leo Tolstoy - Peter Verigin correspondencej, prepared by Lidia Gromova-Opul´skaya, editor, Andrew Donskov, 1995.
Russian Language documents from Russian Poland: a Translation Manual for Genealogists, by Johnathan D. Shea, 1985.
Russian Refuge: Religion, Migration, and Settlement on the North American Pacific Rim by Susan Wiley Hardwick, 1993.
Russian roots and Canadian wings: Russian archival documents on the Doukhobor emigration to Canada, compiled, translated and annotated by John Woodsworth, with a foreword by Vladimir Tolstoy, 1999.
Sergej Tolstoy and the Doukhobors: a journey to Canada: diary and correspondence, edited and with an introduction by Andrew Donskov, compiled by Tatªjana Nikiforova, Sergej Tolstoy's diary and letters translated from the Russian by John Woodsworth, 1998.
Slava Bohu, The story of the Dukhobors, by J.F.C. Wright, 1940.
Spirit wrestlers: Doukhobor pioneers' strategies for living, by Koozma J. Tarasoff, 2002.
The Doukhobor centenary in Canada: a multi-disciplinary perspective on their unity and diversity: proceedings of a conference held at the University of Ottawa, 22-24 October 1999, edited by Andrew Donskov, John Woodsworth and Chad Gaffield, 2000.
The Doukhobors of British Columbia, edited by Harry B. Hawthorn, 1955.
The Doukhobors, by George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic, 1977.
The Russian Consular Records Index and Catalog by Sallyann Amdur Sack and Suzan F. Wynne, 1987.
(AMICUS 6949620(AMICUS )
Search for other books on Doukhobors in AMICUS, using authors, titles or subject keywords such as:
Doukhobor Genealogy website, Jonathan J. Kalmakoff
Doukhobor Discovery Centre
(Available in Russian only)
Russian Doukhobor website
(Available in Russian only)
Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ
Use AVITUS to find other websites about the Doukhobors in Canada.