SASKATOON — Jeanette Stringer, despite one of her parents being of Doukhobor descent, learned about her lineage and the history of their people when she began attending the Christian group’s prayer home.
Her parents were Mennonite and Doukhobor, Russian Christians who escaped the persecution of the Russian Empire for not adhering to the Orthodox church and denouncing violence.
“My parents never took me. One was Mennonite and one was Doukhobor, and we never went anywhere. So, when I was a young woman and had children then I went and searched for my heritage,” said Stringer, whose maiden name is Woykin.
“I took my kids to the [Doukhobor] prayer home and we started learning about the history. Then I learned to sing and I found that I loved it. I felt that I was at home.”
Last week, Stringer was among those who joined the re-enactment of the first encounter between the Doukhobor settlers and the Indigenous people of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation more than 100 years ago in the valley near the river at Blaine Lake.
She said that Doukhobor Dugout House founder Brenda Cheveldayoff’s father, Sam James Popoff, also helped her in learning more about her Russian ancestry through numerous stories he shared with them.
The Doukhobor Dugout House became the homestead of the Popoffs in 1925 with Sam taking over the farm due to its historical significance. It is the original site where the first settlement house was built.
“We used to come here for barbecues and sing songs. He [Popoff] would always tell us about the dugout site that needs to be excavated and how the natives came in and gave them [first Doukhobor settlers] a horse. He [Popoff] wants people to know what had happened here. It was not done until he passed away. [Brenda] took over the land and she made it happen,” said Stringer, who now resides in Martensville.
The Doukhobors were persecuted in Russia but with the help of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy managed to safely arrive in Canada where most settled on the prairies. Stringer’s grandfather was around seven or eight years old when he arrived in Canada.
“I also learned a lot from my baba [grandmother]. She died when I was around 17 or 18 years old. My grandfather died even before I was born and my dad was not that involved. So, I kind of did my adventuring on my own,” said Stringer.
“I went to different churches but when I went to the [Doukhobor] prayer house, I felt like at home and I found my roots.”