YORKTON - The history and heritage of Doukhobor pioneers is intricately connected to East Central Saskatchewan.
There remain brick homes on Myrtle Avenue in the city made of bricks made by Doukhobor own brick plants, and it was not so many years ago Doukhobor women still re-enacted pulling a plow at the Yorkton Thresherman’s Show.
And, of course there were once a number of Doukhobor communities northeast of the city, most now only remembered in history, although Veregin remains. It is the site of the National Doukhobor Heritage Village which is both a National and Provincial Historic site. The museum and associated buildings depict the lifestyles of the Doukhobor immigrants who settled the area.
Now a new book; Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers and Their Friends, by Koozma J. Tarasoff, looks more closely at some Doukhobors who have done interesting things.
Tarasoff’s last book in 2002 was a 480-page illustrated history of ‘Spirit Wrestlers,’ the English translation of ‘Doukhobors.’ The volume featured over 200 profiles and biographies of Doukhobors.
The new book features 33 new biographies coming from around the world ― across Canada (24), Russia (5), USA (2), Caribbean West Indies (1), and Australia (1), and four have no direct Doukhobor heritage.
Tarasoff told Yorkton This Week the latest book felt like a natural to undertake following his earlier effort.
“In 2002, I wrote a major book on my ancestors with a focus on their pioneering spirit of hard work, philosophy of peace, bridge-building, non-killing, hospitality, cooperation, and the inner spirit,” said the author of 14 books. “These are resource strategies for living that we can use today and in the future.
“I recall in the spring of 2003 when I drove by car across western Canada meeting with groups promoting my book, the joy of the people in seeing the beautiful book. The response was one of great success. The leader of the Community Doukhobors, John J. Verigin, Sr., described the book as ‘the best encyclopedia of the Doukhobors’. While that book consisted of over 100 biographies and family stories, I saw a need to invite other people who showed extraordinary spirit and talent to create a peaceful and healthy society. Hence the idea for the new book.”
But, why did Tarasoff think the book was worth writing?
“My Doukhobor ancestors burnt their guns in Tsarist Russia in June of 1895,” related Tarasoff who was born in 1932 on an isolated Saskatchewan farm 35 miles north-west of Saskatoon. “They were against military conscription. This led to persecution, as a result, one-third of the most persecuted, numbering 7500, migrated to the Canadian prairies in 1899, (they settled in and around Veregin, plus colonies in the Langham and Blaine Lake areas of north-central part of the province).
“Today their philosophy of hard work and survival remains valuable to the wider society. If we are to survive today from war threats, the Coronavirus pandemic, and climate change, we will have to learn all the lessons we can of getting to work together, friendship-making, getting to know the stranger, the vital process of innovations and friendly human collaboration.”
In the book each biographer presented in their own voice stories showing how Doukohbors strive to create a peaceful non-killing society. They reveal the diversity of interpretations of the Doukhobor Movement today.
Given the local connections there are ties to the area in the book.
“Ancestors of the Doukhobors continue to reside in the local areas,” offered Tarasoff. “They are always interested in their Russian identity and learning about their contributions to their new country.
“The National Doukhobor Heritage Village in Veregin remains open as a showplace for the life and times of these Slavic immigrants who were true pioneers in cultivating the soil, building the railroads, establishing flour mills and brick factories. Some scholars from the area became teachers, professors, doctors, lawyers, expert geologists, oil professionals, and engineers – with one of them being Michael Chernoff of Veregin (now living in West Vancouver, BC) who funded this book. Michael is an outstanding example of survival, success and philanthropy as a real Doukhobor pioneer who knows the meaning of love and caring for one's neighbour.
“When Michael graduated from Kamsack High School, he received a full scholarship for studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON., which led to a successful career in Geological Engineering. As payback, Michael established full paid scholarships to good students who cannot otherwise afford to go to university. Also he gave millions to establish a science facility at the university.”
While the biographies were provided, creating the book still took time and effort.
“It was long tedious work requiring much patience and waiting (eight years) for the biographies to come in, plus periodic editing, and the writing of introductions for each,” explained Tarasoff.
“Gathering 340 images was no small task, and their placement and formatting was a challenge. All was done on a volunteer basis. I owe much gratitude to Andrei Conovaloff of Arizona, my webmaster, who served patiently as co-editor and designer.”
Tarasoff said having the right help smoothed the greatest challenges faced in producing the latest book.
“Getting the book published earlier was a challenge. Formatting with over 340 photos, most in colour, required expert help,” he recounted.
“My task as writer, author, organizer and compiler, was to keep everyone and everything on track. The goal was achieved and the book came out in January 2022. Free copies were sent to the biographers, to select libraries and archives around the world, to several book reviewers, as well as to a number of individuals (both Doukhobor and non-Doukhobor). It is truly a volunteer labour of love.”
So what is the best aspect of the book?
“Each biographer presented his or her own voice with authentic stories about the Doukhobors,” said Tarasoff. “This is not fiction. Doukhobors are not nudists or terrorists, as they often have been wrongly portrayed in the sensational media. They are a legitimate part of the Canadian and world community whose desire is to create a peaceful non killing society. This group of 33 biographers revealed the diversity of interpretations of what constitutes being a Doukhobor.”
Tarasoff is pleased with the way the book turned out.
“The book is professional, scholarly, colourful, and a monumental work – a treasure to our Russian pioneers who came to Canada in 1899,” he said. “As one of the readers said, ‘This was ‘a labour of love’.
Tarasoff also gave a “big ‘thank you’ to Merriam Print in Ottawa which formatted and printed the book. Manager Jia Hou did a great job with her team in getting the book printed on time.”
Now that it is out Tarasoff said he hopes for a broad readership.
“The book is for everyone,” he said. “The reader will be able to meet a variety of people – young and old – with an extraordinary spirit and talent to create a peaceful and healthy Canadian society.”
Tarasoff said the book will allow readers to meet scholars, a lawyers, ministers, professors, educators, administrators, a heritage builder, Slavic specialists, a civil servant, medical doctor, community activist, geophysical engineer, petroleum consultant, Wheat Pool Director, singers and musicians, storyteller, dancer, communications worker, early childhood educator, digital technology expert, ethnographer and folklorist, entrepreneur with a conscience, international consular property manager, organic architect in the Caribbean, a family that moved back to Russia next to the home of Lev N. Tolstoy, and an organic candy maker in Australia.
“The good thing about this book is that it is addressed to the wider society and everyone young and old may find something interesting and enlightening,” he said.
Print copies of the 459-page volume can be obtained on demand from Merriam Print, 252 Laurier Avenue East, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6P4. Contact Jia Hou, Manager: email: email@example.com or phone 613-567-5050.
Also the book is available free online as an eBook at www.Spirit-Wrestlers.com/2022 You can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org