Peter Maurin In Canada – The Doukhobors (4)

A contingent of workers built log bunkhouses in the winter of 1899 in anticipation of the arrival of the waves of Doukhobors who would follow.  The original colony straddled the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border.  The first of these residences were built on the now NW31-34-29 quarter section of the Rural Municipality of Swan River.  Realizing the difficulty of administering a single colony across provincial lines the colony was reassigned property fully falling within the province of Saskatchewan.

At the time the nearest railhead lay in Cowan, Manitoba.  The first immigrants to the northern colony rode the train to this town located on the northeast edge of the Duck Mountain and then walked forty miles west on the newly open Cowan Trail to their new home.  The mountain had experienced a massive forest fire the year before; the scenery was a burned out ghostscape.  Catching sight of the Swan River Valley their spirits lifted.  The spectre of a new Eden spread out before them.

Cowan Trail

With the coming of spring…

…[a]s the Doukhobors moved out to these villages they first erected makeshift shelters, either of poplar poles or turf; sometimes, where there was a hillside, they lived the summer through in a dugout, and there were also a number of tents.  Outdoor ovens were built for baking bread, and the blacksmiths set up their forges and made charcoal out of the available timber.  Like most communities that have traditionally been self-contained, the Doukhobors found little difficulty in going immediately into operation in a strange environment, for they had among them men who knew all the necessary crafts.  Among the first things they obtained through the bonus fund was a quantity of iron bars and leather, and with these they immediately set about making harness, spades, and tires for their wagons.

This self-sufficiency, which was carried into many fields of activity, undoubtedly helped the Doukhobors to survive with very little money during the first years on the prairies.  One of the first gifts of the American Quakers was three hundred spinning-wheels, and with these the Doukhobor women span the woollen and linen thread they later wove on homemade looms into homespun cloth.  Furniture was made out of hand-hewn wood, and utensils, such as spoons, were carved out of the same material.  Some of these crafts continued to be practised for decades…

The Doukhobors, Woodcock and Avakumovic

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In need of money the able-bodied men went off in early spring to find work leaving women, children, and the aged to begin agricultural work on the land, clearing brush, tilling, plowing, seeding, and planting gardens, and house construction under the guidance of a couple of skilled carpenters in each village.

A Canadian surveyor recorded a typical incident in his daily log…

…[a] no-longer-young, bowed woman, with wrinkles on her hands and with a brown, dried-up face, together with a brown old man on bent legs, and a youth as long as a pole, with rope harnesses over their shoulders were silently pulling a home-made wagon on which lay a large, fresh pine log.  They were so absorbed in this work that they did not notice me.  Barely moving one foot past the other, all ragged and dusty they slowly moved down the road.  The ropes cut deeply into their thin shoulders but they did not change position and continued to walk without stopping, looking at the ground with pale tired faces, on which  streamed shining stripes of abundantly flowing perspiration.  And with each turn of the crooked wheels the home-made wagon squealed sadly, as if it too were in pain.

Toil And Peaceful Life, Carl Tracie

In the absence of draft animals and with men gone to job sites horse power took on a whole new meaning…

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The villages that took shape across the region where we live I recorded on this map of what is now the Rural Municipality of Livingston which lies across the road to the west of the Parkland Worker.  The PW is located two miles as the crow flies southeast of the most northeast village marked on the map, Troitzkoe…

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…and here is its eventual survey…

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