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Doukhobor factions

[ Nudes at God's Valley settlement, near Grand Forks, greet a visitor, 1918, Unknown, UBC Special Collections 16-1 ]

The Doukhobors were nothing if not factionalized. By the 1920s they were divided in many ways. There were Independents, who had broken with Verigin and the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB). Seeing the example of the Independents, some commune members must also have strongly considered the idea of setting up their own farms. Then there were the svobodniki, who insisted on a pure form of Doukhoborism that rejected modernism and any accommodation with governments and their laws. Verigin and the svobodniki had a complex relationship. He expelled them from the community, but appeared to tolerate them squatting on communal lands. For their part, the "purists" were not afraid to prove their vigilance in defence of Doukhobor principles. In 1916, for instance, they burned Verigin’s palatial dom, or community home, in Otradno, Saskatchewan, as a warning both to Verigin and his followers not to idealize and worship the image of Verigin or to take the dom itself to be an icon. It was likely also zealots who burned Verigin’s impressive summer house/office at Brilliant, in British Columbia, in April 1924. If their opposition to Verigin’s displays of splendour could justify arson, could it also justify murder?

Even within the commune there were divisions. Boom times generated by World War One injected money into the commune, and an elite of local managers had emerged. Ask yourself what the photos of these men portray about them and their way of life compared to ordinary Doukhobors toiling in the rural villages. Were they ready to push Lordly aside and seize the limelight for themselves?

Yet another possible conspirator against Lordly was his long-time companion, Anastasia Holubova. About 1923, after having been at Verigin’s side for the two decades since he came to Canada, Holubova may have seen her special status threatened. At his death, Verigin was traveling with 17-year-old Mary Strelaeff. Although Strelaeff has been described as Verigin’s secretary, it is highly unlikely that she was even literate, in Russian or English. Doukhobor girls rarely went to school. Could jealousy and revenge be a motive or did Holubova reason that with Verigin dead she might have the opportunity to lead the Doukhobors? After his death she did make a bid to succeed Verigin.

The police theory was that fellow Doukhobors had killed Verigin. Their suspicions focused on two men who were Russian immigrants but not Doukhobors. (It is important to note that the Doukhobors themselves made the distinction.) One was the flamboyant Sam Kamenshikoff, also known as Orange Sam, whose bizarre behaviour and dress made him an easy target of suspicion. The second police suspect was the watchmaker with a toolkit full of aliases, Metro Grishin. But aside from the problem of evidence for their involvement in any bombing, what motive might they have had to kill Verigin? Could they have been acting for others, in Canada or beyond?

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