Doukhobors Make Good Canadians
Ages 14-16

MysteryQuest 8

Doukhobors Make Good Canadians

Author: Ray Appel

Editors: Ruth Sandwell, Dick Holland

Series Editor: Roland Case

A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14-16

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Late in the evening of October 28, 1924, Peter Verigin boarded a Canadian Pacific Railway train at Brilliant, British Columbia, the headquarters of the Doukhobor community. About one in the morning a horrific explosion blew away the roof and sides of the coach. Verigin and eight others perished in the explosion, which investigators on the scene quickly concluded was no accident.

Known by the single name “Lordly,” Peter Verigin lived like royalty among a group of Russian immigrants to Canada, the Doukhobors, whose motto was “Toil and Peaceful Life.” The Doukhobors preached equality and rejected the authority of both Church and State. As a result, they were persecuted in Russia. In 1902, their leader, Peter Verigin, and many of his community came to Canada to take up a new life.

Yet they did not find peace in Canada. Doukhobor protests against what they saw as governmental interference with their religious and political freedoms involved arson, public nudity, and refusal to pay taxes or send their children to school. Because of this unusual behaviour, many regarded the Doukhobors as undesirable citizens and they were under surveillance by the RCMP. Your challenge is to try to understand the situation from the Doukhobor perspective and to explain why their actions may well be consistent with the principles and attributes of valued members of Canadian society.

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In this MysteryQuest, you will take on the role of a member of the Doukhobor community that was persecuted in Canada in the early twentieth century. You will explore various historical documents to support the claim that the Doukhobors were good Canadian citizens. You will present your findings in a persuasive letter to the Minister of Immigration, arguing that in spite of what some people say, the Doukhobors are commendable citizens.

You will begin by considering the criteria for a good Canadian citizen. After reading about the Doukhobors and the many conflicts involving their community, you will take on the persona of a Doukhobor community member. Before writing your letter, you will explore selected historical documents to find the evidence to support their credentials as good Canadian citizens. As well, you will look at potential challenges to this position and develop arguments to counter these objections.

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STEP 1: Decide on criteria for a good citizen

The first step in arguing that the Doukhobors in the 1920s were good Canadian citizens is to identify criteria for good citizenship. Take a moment to think of the kind of values and character traits that make an ideal citizen. These might include virtues such as hardworking, law-abiding, peaceful (rejecting violence as a solution to problems), and exhibiting integrity (living by your principles). Make a list of seven or eight criteria and select from this list five key criteria of a good Canadian citizen. Enter these criteria in the left-hand column of the chart Evidence of Citizenship Qualities.

STEP 2: Read about the historical context

Before examining documents from the time of the killing of Peter Verigin, it will be useful to learn more about the Doukhobors. Read the three documents in the “Introduction” section of Evidence in the Case. These selections, written by historians, offer background information explaining the conflicts Doukhobors encountered and the sequence of events from the early history of the Doukhobors to the present day.

STEP 3: Look for evidence

You are now ready to look for evidence to support the position that Doukhobors made good Canadian citizens in the early twentieth century. In the “Primary documents” section of Evidence in the Case are ten documents about the Doukhobors during the early part of the twentieth century. Select three of these documents to use as the basis for developing reasons why the Doukhobors were good citizens.

As you read each document, look for evidence that relates to the five criteria for good citizenship you selected. You are to look for evidence that suggests the Doukhobors met each criterion and also for any evidence that suggests they may not have met the criteria. For example, if being law-abiding was selected as a criterion for good citizenship, you might notice in the documents that the Doukhobors were very obedient to their leaders. You might also note in relation to being law-abiding that some Doukhobors disobeyed Canadian law.

For each document you read, use a copy of the chart Evidence of Citizenship Qualities to record the evidence for good citizenship (in column two) and against good citizenship (in column three). You will not necessarily find evidence in each document for and against every one of the criteria, and in some cases you will find several pieces of evidence for or against some criteria.

STEP 4: Prepare counter-arguments

There are two strategies for convincing others of the merits of a position. One strategy is to present all the reasons why your position is a good idea. In the case of arguing that the Doukhobors are good citizens, it means showing how their actions are consistent with the qualities of a good citizen. This is the evidence you assembled in column two of the chart Evidence of Citizenship Qualities.

A second strategy for convincing others is to consider the reasons that those who oppose your view might offer, and try to challenge these objections. To do this is to develop a counter-argument. In the case of the Doukhobors, it means looking at the evidence assembled in column three of Evidence of Citizenship Qualities and thinking of reasons why this evidence is damaging to your position. For example, it was suggested earlier that potential evidence against looking upon the Doukhobors as law-abiding citizens is that some of them disobeyed Canadian law. Developing counter-arguments involves thinking of reasons why this is not an important concern. You might, for example, note that not all Doukhobors broke the law, and that they did so as a last resort because of their deep commitment to religious and political principles. You could also remind your audience that the Constitution of Canada protects these kinds of basic freedoms.

Select three or four of the most importance pieces of evidence against regarding the Doukhobors as good citizens, and record these on the chart Developing Counter-Arguments. For each of these potential objections to your position, think of one or two counter-arguments to minimize the damage they present to your position.

STEP 5: Write a persuasive letter

When you have examined the documents and developed a number of counter-arguments, you are now ready to write a persuasive letter to the Minister of Immigration arguing that, despite what some may think, the Doukhobors are good Canadian citizens. In preparing your letter, be sure to clearly explain your arguments (including counter-arguments) and provide evidence from the documents to support each argument. Remember to write your letter as though you are a member of the Doukhobor community writing to a government official.

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The evaluation rubric Assessing Supporting and Opposing Evidence may be used to assess how well you were able to meet the following criteria:

  • identify supporting evidence in the documents;
  • identify opposing evidence in the documents;
  • and develop convincing counter-arguments to the most important objections.

The evaluation rubric Assessing a Persuasive Presentation may be used to assess how well you were able to meet the following criteria for a persuasive letter:

  • clearly written arguments (including counter-arguments) supported with abundant evidence;
  • and written in the assigned perspective and in a tone appropriate for the intended audience.

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A letter of reference for Verigin
Write a letter of reference supporting Peter Verigin’s immigration to Canada, using criteria provided on the Immigration to Canada website of the Canadian Government.

Use the following sources as the basis for your recommendation:

Peter Verigin — History

Cast of Characters

Canada’s treatment of the Doukhobors
The Doukhobors left Russia because of persecution for their religious beliefs. Yet, when they came to Canada, they were also persecuted for their way of life. In both cases, they were treated harshly because of their deeply-held principles. Were they victimized in both countries simply because they were different, or are there reasons for distinguishing their treatment in Russia from their treatment in Canada? Examine the documents listed in Evidence in the Case. Also consult the following magazine article:

Mrs. W. Garland Foster, “A Doomed Utopia”, Saturday Night, June 14, 1924

Explore the Verigin murder
Apply your detective skills to MysteryQuest 11 and MysteryQuest 12. These mysteries are also associated with the murder of Peter Verigin and they invite you to reconstruct the crime scene and investigate possible suspects in the case.

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Activity sheet: Evidence of Citizenship Qualities

Activity sheet: Developing Counter-Arguments

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Conflicts Among Doukhobors and With Their Neighbours

Doukhobor Culture and Migration to Canada

Primary documents

Newspaper articles

“A Menace to the District”,Grand Forks Gazette, September 14, 1912

“Attempt to Burn Doukhobor School”, Grand Forks Gazette, March 30, 1923

Editorial, “Regarding Doukhobors”, Oregon Daily Journal, April 15, 1924


Alex Sherstobetoff and John Koleenoff, Petition of Independent Doukhobors, July 26, 1913

J.A. Fraser, Chief Constable, to A.M. Johnson, Deputy Attorney General of British Columbia, July 22, 1919

“Open Letter from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood to the B.C. Government”, Brilliant, British Columbia, November 5, 1924

Government documents

RCMP Report on Doukhobor Conditions, March 17, 1925

RCMP Report on Doukhobor Conditions, April 11, 1925

Oral history

Nikolai Nevokshonoff, “Doukhobor Community Elders Ordered Schools Burned in 1924”, Testimony to the Expanded Kootenay Committee on Intergroup Relations, October 28, 1982

Magazine article

Mrs. W. Garland Foster, “A Doomed Utopia”, Saturday Night, June 14, 1924