After an amazing lunch of Russian borscht at the Brilliant Cultural Centre near Castlegar

Selkirk College students discover Doukhobor connection to peace

A deeper exploration of Doukhobor culture provided valuable insight to a class of 25 Selkirk College students.

A deeper exploration of Doukhobor culture provided valuable insight to a class of 25 Selkirk College students who had an opportunity to sample the history, philosophy, food, language and spirit of a community that has helped shape the West Kootenay-Boundary region.

Offered through the Mir Centre for Peace Summer Institute, Peace 216: The Doukhobors was an intensive five-day course that took place in and around Castlegar last week. The course explored the Doukhobors and their connection to issues of peace and conflict. Open to everyone, the course took a look at the beginnings in Russia to the current realities. Doukhobor history and culture were examined with attention to themes of peace, pacifism, violence and non-violence, community, and utopia.

“I really think that our communities are missing out tremendously by not embracing the historical significance and the historical experience of the Doukhobor heritage,” said Sally Williams, a retired Castlegar teacher who became student for a week. “I think with the militarization of Canada, we need the influence of the Doukhobor people and the whole peace movement more than ever.”

Williams joined a class that was comprised of a diverse group of students who had a multitude reasons for taking part in the educational experience. Williams was joined by current Selkirk College students who were taking the class as part of their diploma programs, students with Doukhobor roots wanting to dig deeper into their backgrounds and community members who simply wanted more knowledge.

“We have had an opportunity to engage in talking to people who are intimately connected to the culture that is expressed in speakers and the venues we have visited,” said Williams. “I feel very privileged to take part in this course.”

Students spent the mornings in class with Selkirk College History/Peace Studies Instructor Takaia Larsen. Historical lectures were combined with presentations by guest speakers from the Doukhobor community including Vera Malloff, Elizabeth Malloff, Hannah Hadijin, Peter Evdokimoff, JJ Verigin and Fred Makortoff. In the afternoons they journeyed into the community for field study where they visited the Brilliant Cultural Centre, the Doukhobor Discovery Centre, Verigin’s Memorial Park, the Doukhobor Suspension Bridge, the Brilliant Cemetery, the Memorial Stone at the confluence and Zuckerberg Island. The class was also welcomed into the homes of Walter and Vera Kanigan, and Robin and Rebecca Thewall.

At the Brilliant Cultural Centre, the class took part in helping members of the Doukhobor Kootenay Ladies Organization (KLO) make Russian borscht. The students packed into the bustling kitchen in the basement of the centre where all the senses were brought alive during the activity.

KLO Head Cook Edna Sapriken and her team helped illustrate the importance of food in the Doukhobor culture. Students helped in the kitchen and then joined the members of the KLO for a meal, prayer, conversation and song.

“I think it is important not just for the non-Doukhobor people to come and learn, but it’s important for our own people,” said Sapriken, who has been making borscht at the cultural centre for the last 25 years. “A lot of our own people have lost the cultural roots. We want to imitate what we originated with, but it’s very difficult to do because we can’t quite understand the full scope of how we originated.”

This is the first year that Selkirk College has offered Peace 216: The Doukhobors as a summer institute class. The response through enrolment and feedback after completion indicate the class was a tremendous success.

“I’m more than pleased with how the course went,” says Larsen. “It was an incredible week of learning for the students, but also an important connection with the community. Everybody that took part has left with something that they will be able to carry forward in their understanding of why this culture is so important to our region and why we need to continue to learn from the Doukhobor people.”

Find out more about the School of University Arts & Sciences at Selkirk College at selkirk.ca/uas.