Peter Maurin In Canada – The Doukhobors (2)

The geography in our area is formally known as parkland.  What that means is that we are not far enough south and west to be prairie and not far enough north to be boreal forest.  We live in a transition zone of grassland, scrubland, and woodland.  It is an area of rich soil suitable for agriculture.  Far enough north its climate and remoteness caused it to be settled much later than Canadian regions farther south.  The Canadian government actively advertised for farmers to immigrate onto the prairies for settlement beginning in the late 1800’s.  People responded both as individuals and groups.  Peter Maurin responded as an individual; the Doukhobors responded as a group.  An obscure group who fled persecution in Russia, Doukhobors flourished as a group for a couple of decades in this region of the eastern Canadian prairie and then disbanded, the formal remnants of their order migrating to the British Columbia interior where a few colonies still exist.  Nevertheless, Doukhobor life would make an impact on both this area and Peter Maurin.  As a Catholic Worker, and in particular as a Catholic Worker farm I believe that it is worth setting out in greater depth, albeit briefly, this intimate connection of these two.  You see, we live in Doukhobor country.  Many of our neighbours are of Doukhobor heritage.  We honour that heritage and the vestiges of their way of life.  Our property is located across the road from what was the Thunderhill colony.

catholic worker farm
The Parkland Worker on the left side of the road in Manitoba, and the original land grant of the Doukhobor North (Thunderhill) Colony on the right side of the road in Saskatchewan. Thunderhill is in the background.

One of the first things we did when we moved here was to clear brush for a circuitous walking trail in the nineteen acres of woods that surround our house.  The flora here is resilient, hazel brush and poplar.  Each regenerates very quickly off of the root systems of neighbouring plants.  It springs back overnight.  We did not fear environmental degradation in doing this.

While engaged in this process we noticed two ruts that we cut time and again.  Eventually we brushed this section out incorporating it into our trail system.  In doing so we found bits and pieces of broken brick, which at the time was a curiosity to us.  Then one of our neighbours commented that what we had discovered was the original wagon road that led from the Doukhobor settles of Oospennie and Troitzkoe to the nearest village, Benito, ten miles to the southeast of us where they went to trade.  Doukhobors had a brick factory in the area, which served as both one of the building materials that they used, as well as a craft that supported them financially in the region.

This is the trail.  Two feet deep in snow right now, I rarely walk it in summer without being reminded of those who first wore it into the ground a hundred years ago with their wagon wheels…