Bread, salt and water: the history of Doukhobors in Alberta

Editor’s note: The following blog post is part one of a two-part series looking at the history and influence of Doukhobors in Alberta.

East of the Crowsnest Pass, nestled within the small community of Lundbreck, sits a simple white building clad in asbestos shingles and covered with metal roof. The structure looks utilitarian and spare; it could easily be mistaken for the kind of modest community halls one occasionally sees in Alberta’s small towns. While the building is almost entirely non-descript, the history that it embodies is extraordinarily rich.

The history of the Alberta Doukhobors is an essential chapter in the story of one of the largest experiments in communal living in North America. Approximately 7,500 Doukhobors came to Canada in 1899, at the time it was the largest mass migration in the country’s history. In stark contrast, at a 2018 meeting of Doukhobors in British Columbia, a grim question was posed: will there be any Doukhobors active in their faith by 2030? Between their noteworthy arrival at the end of the nineteenth century and their dwindling membership today, the Doukhobors have lived a tumultuous and compelling experience in Canada. This post attempts to explore the vision and roots of the Doukhobor community, and their early experiences in Canada.

Doukhobor Prayer Home in Lundbreck, 2013
The Doukhobor Prayer Home in Lundreck (also known as the Doukhobor Hall [dom or house]) is one of the few tangible reminders of one of the most remarkable communities of people to ever settle in this province.
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The Butterfly Effect

Peeling paint and powdering plaster were the first indications something was amiss at the Blairmore Courthouse, a Provincial Historic Resource in the Crowsnest Pass. A leak in the cedar shingle roof, replaced just the previous year, was immediately suspected. Detailing around the dormers in particular, part of the 1922 building’s distinctive Spanish Colonial Revival design by architect R.P. Blakey, is tricky and vulnerable to water penetration.

1920s view of Blairmore Courthouse from the southwest (Photo Credit: Glenbow Archives)
1920s view of Blairmore Courthouse from the southwest (Photo Credit: Glenbow Archives NA-712-3)

Nippon School of Technology, which owns the building and runs a technical school and exchange program for Japanese engineering students there, inspected the roof from the attic and found no active leaks. Puzzled, N.I.T. engaged a conservation architect to inspect the building and identify sources of moisture causing the paint and plaster failure. The findings were at once surprising and (in hindsight) credible.   Read more

Diverse Sites Tell Distinct Stories of Alberta’s History

 

Three sites from Alberta’s past – one that precedes the railway, one that was made possible by the railway and one that made the railway run – were recently designated as Provincial Historic Resources for their historical and architectural significance.

The McDonald Stopping House, a pre-railway lodging place in Smoky Lake County.

The Red Brick School, an imposing structure in Didsbury, built to accommodate the railway-fuelled population boom before World War One.

The West Canadian Collieries Mine Site in the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, which sold virtually all of its 13 million tonnes of coal to the Canadian Pacific Railway.

   

Click on the above links to read the sites’ Statements of Significance on the Alberta Register of Historic Places. Alberta currently has over 330 Provincial Historic Resources.  These sites embody the richness and variety of our province’s history and include medicine wheels, tipi rings, fur trading and mounted police posts, coal mines, farmsteads, ranches, railway stations, grain elevators, churches, schools, government offices, commercial blocks and private residences.   

For more information on Alberta’s Provincial Historic Resource Designation Program, click here.

Written by: Matthew Wangler, Manager of Historic Places Research and Designation Program