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Doukhobor Community elders ordered schools burned in 1924

Testimony of Nikolai Nevokshonoff, elderly Doukhobor, to the Expanded Kootenay Committee on Intergroup Relations, October 28, 1982

Testimony of MR. NEVOKSHONOFF — through Mr. Abrosimoff [translator]: I will be speaking in Russian. I am not going to attempt to explain as to when and why Doukhobors took on the use of fire. I will only say that it was not only the Sons of Freedoms that were involved in the act of fire. There were instances at different times when people from other groups, Community people, members of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood and also the independent farmers took part — were involved in fires Yes, the Freedomites as the heads of the Doukhobors, they were more active in this type of work. It has been left in my memory, an incident — incidents in 1924; in one night, schools burned of all the settlements of the members of Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood. Seven schools in this district and the burning of these schools they were dispatched with by the members of the Community people themselves without any Sons of Freedoms taking part) This happened at Easter when the teachers were all away at home. In every district there were members elected for one year as trustees in regards to the community affairs. They were called elders. There was one elder that was elected that was the head of all the other elders. The one that was serving without being changed or continuously. His name was Waser Viashin , his name was Chernenkoff but he was known under the nickname of Viashin. Under his orders or under his command was a team of white horses and a buggy. From time to time he went throughout the villages and was overseeing the activities of different villages. Coming through the villages just before Easter, William Viashin told every elder of the [end page 31] village, at a certain time of the night at Easter that a school must be burned: Either do it yourself with a helper or find two trustworthy people so this would be achieved. Schools burned and I can name the people that were involved. Involved in burning of the schools. I can name by name every elder and their helpers of all surrounding area. At the same time and the same night three schools were burned in Grand Forks. Who set those schools on fire, I do not know. When these schools were burnt, Peter Vasilievich Verigin, Lordly was in Alberta. And he heard it over there as to what happened. Soon, he came to Brilliant. He was met at the station by William Vlashin, Sam Verishagin and Vasha Anutiskin. He passed [sic] them." Are all the schools burned?" They replied, "All". He said, "Well, it appears that I will have to answer for these schools and after that anyone that accepts schools, they will take it upon their own head." Six elders were involved and their helpers in the burning of the schools. The village of Thotishenia, three schools, elder Nicolas Chernenkoff, assistant Alex Chevdaeff, that's one school. The other two schools, George Nazareff and Sam Nevokshonoff, second school. Emilia Kanigan and George Gleboff, to make it more positive, Natalie was George's wife, that was the third school. The village of China Creek or Poupore,[end page 32] one school. Elder, Michael Sofonoff, assistant Samual Poznikoff. The village of Pass Creek, one school. Elder, William Sukoroff, assistant George Perapolkin. The village of Kladarodna, it laid across the river, one school. Elder, Timothy Strelieff, two assistants, Fred Voykin and Peter Barikoff. The area village of Kristova, one school. Elder Nicholas Antifaeff, assistant Nicholas Barikoff.

MR. GRTTCHIN: Barisoff.



[p. 38]

MR. WHITE: I'd like to ask Mr. Nevokshonoff what authority those elders would have in relationship to the authority the leader had when telling someone or instructing someone to do something?

MR. ABROSIMOFF: (translates into Russian for Mr. Nevokshonoff)

MR. NEVOKSHONOFF — through Mr. Abrosimoff: The members that were elected were elected by the people. And the one that was the head over all others, he was selected by the leader. And because of this, the people understood that if Vasha said anything, so this was the wishes of the leader. Maybe he did some things on his own but people understood that he was speaking for the leader.

MR. WHITE: Would I be correct then in assuming that if an elder instructed people to burn, the people would believe that the leader had told them to burn? [end page 38]

MR. ABROSIMOFF: (translates to Russian for Mr. Nevokshonoff)



MR. STANGELAND: I just have one question for Mr. Nevoksonoff. Referring to the burning of the schools in 1924. I would just like to know his understanding of why the schools were burned?

MR. NEVOKSHONOFF — through Mr. Abrosimoff: The Doukhobors from way back were against scholastic eduction [sic]. Moving here to British Columbia, soon after, the Provincial Government ordered that the children should go to school. For a long period the Doukhobors tried to find different reasons as to why the children should go to school. In the final end, they were told and I think it was the Attorney-General himself, Mr. Bowser, told Peter Vasilievich Verigin, if the children will not attend schools we will be taking fines to you. Lordly replied that he had no money to pay the fines. Then Mr. Bowser said, "Then we will take your moveable chattals and sell them and the money we recover from the chattals will be turned against the fines." And this meant a destruction. And Peter Vasilievich at a mass meeting appealed to the people, he said, "Brothers and sisters, we are threatened with a second destruction. The first one was in Saskachewan [sic] when the lands were confiscated [end page 44] because we would not accept naturalization. And here, everything has been bought on credit and we have a new destruction coming.” And Peter Vasilievich said, “Brothers and sisters, I do not intend that you are ready for such a struggle to lose everything. Maybe we should accept the schools on light terms.” The first children that went to school from seven years of age till ten. And only boys because the girls had to be babysitting with the smaller children when the mothers were working out in the fields. It had remained in the people that schools were forced, compulsory and it was in the minds of the people that somehow they had to do something about these. The schools were forced upon in 1912. A continuation of twelve years until 1924, there was much dissatisfaction. And then it came to that point where it was decided to burn the schools.


Mr. BOURNE: Could we hear the psalm, Mr. Makortoff?

[end of p. 61]

MR. MAKORTOFF: Yes. This would describe and I think substantiate what Mr. Nevokshonoff has been stating. That the schools were accepted grudgingly, it wasn't something that they wanted. This is perhaps because the schools had a militaristic attitude, flag raising and the rest of this during the process and this was unacceptable to the Doukhobors. If I could read the psalm, what it indicates is just a general attitude of all the Doukhobor people at that time against schools.

"Question: Why do you not attend English schools and learn grammar?

Answer: Schools prepare children for killing and wars. All your educated children do not live with their parents and do not respect them. We are striving to learn in the school of God's nature which gives us knowledge of the Godly beauty of the universe, in order to love the world which is created by God for our joy. At the same time, we, together with our parents, are striving to gain sustenance for our flesh from the soil with our own labours."

That is the psalm. [...] And we have another question, if we may, in respect to the [April 25, 1924] letter that Mr. [John J.] Verigin [end page 62] read out to John Oliver from Peter Lordly. That was in 1924. We have an excerpt here from a letter in 1923, from the same office. And this was at the time when there was this threat to go to school and the people were going to be assessed and in fact were. It says: "From the newspaper clipping" This is a letter of May 17th, 1923:

"From the newspaper clipping you shall see that the Doukhobors have been fined $300.00. The Doukhobors will not voluntarily pay this fine. If Nelson police will also collect the fine by looting and plundering, like it did in Grand Forks, then all the schools in the Doukhobor districts will be closed and I cannot guarantee that the schools will not be burned to the ground since it is evident that the government seeks only an excuse on which to pick a quarrel with the Doukhobors over the school question."

This letter was signed by a Samuel Verishagin who was, if you will, a Minister for Education in the C.C.U.B. ...

MR. BOURNE: Comments, first Mr. Verigin?

MR. VERIGIN: Mr. Chairman, I understand there is no contradiction with these two letters. ... "I cannot guarantee that schools will not be burned." Nowhere does it reply [sic] that Mr. Verigin was launching a campaign of burning the schools down. ... [end page 65]


MR. BOURNE: We're getting pretty close to the time to recess. I'm wondering whether you'd like to ask any more questions of the witness or whether MR. MAKORTOFF: At this point what we should do is probably dismiss the witness. What we should maybe do then is just summarize what has been happening and what the witness here has been saying. There was a consensus and there was a definite feeling of trust in the leadership of the Doukhobors. By Peter Verigin's own words, there was perhaps twenty, maybe thirty Sons of Freedom then. Means of getting about were difficult, the roads weren't what they are now. Yet there was over two dozen schools burnt in that one night. ... [end page 66]


MR. BOURNE: I think that Mr. Nevokshonoff, the witness, has helped us-a great deal.

Source: Nikolai Nevokshonoff, "Doukhobor Community elders ordered schools burned in 1924 ,", October 28, 1982.

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