From Russia with Bread, Salt and Water
By Ryan Dutchak
From Buddhism to Presbyterianism, Lethbridge and southern Alberta have a diverse religious history. One of the many groups that moved to this area were the Doukhobors, a Christian sectarian group who emigrated from Russia to Canada at the end of the nineteenth century. Also known as the “Spirit Wrestlers,” the Doukhobors held strong pacifistic beliefs due to their perception that God dwells within every being. Their refusal to serve in the military resulted in a growth of public hostility directed at the group.
In the early 1900s, the Doukhobors established communities throughout the province of Saskatchewan. However, they were forced to move following disputes with the Saskatchewan government over homestead laws and the education of children. They travelled west, from Saskatchewan to British Columbia. Internal fractures resulted in the formation of a zealous group, later called the “Sons of Freedom.” Unfortunately, the arson attacks and nude protests carried out by the Sons of Freedom have overshadowed the more peaceful and industrious history of the Doukhobors in Canada.
In 1915, the Doukhobors purchased their first Alberta settlement in the Cowley-Lundbreck area. Thirteen small villages soon followed, with roughly 300 people occupying 13,500 acres of land. The Cowley-Lundbreck settlements were developed to support the communal villages established in British Columbia. To this end, they built two grain elevators and a flour mill to supply the Brilliant, BC community with flour and grain products. The Doukhobors also played a central role in the southern Alberta livestock industry. The public hostility the Doukhobors faced in other areas of Canada never manifested itself in Alberta.
Financial difficulties forced many to leave the province. Those who stayed in the Cowley-Lundbreck area formed the “United Doukhobors of Alberta.” In 1954, the Doukhobors built a prayer home in Lundbreck, which gained historic recognition from the provincial government in 2010.