Saturday, January 21, 2012

Last Best West: Doukhobors Arrive

When Canada needed to settle the prairies in the first half of the 20th century, Wilfrid Laurier's Liberal government was forced to look outside its comfort zone and consider a ragtag group of Russians known as "Spirit Wrestlers," or Doukhobors.

While it was the largest mass migration in Canadian history, Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton would have preferred English or other western Europeans, but the English were abysmal farmers and the rest weren't in any rush to break ground in -30° C temperatures.

(1908 postcard showing Doukhobor women plowing fields)
So on January 23, 1899, the S.S. Lake Huron docked at Halifax, Nova Scotia with 2,140 Doukhobors on board.

My own relatives would arrive the following week on the S.S. Lake Superior and then more again six months later on the Huron.

The journey had taken a month from the Black Sea port of Batum, which was Russia at the time, now Batumi, Georgia. Other ships would arrive later, but this group headed west, settling across the prairies until eventually reaching B.C. Today I raise my bowl of borscht and celebrate 113 years in Canada!

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