Penticton, British Columbia
6th July 2008
“Where are you from?” I asked the man in the record shop.
“New York”, he said.
“You don’t sound it.”
“I came here when I was eighteen. I’ve been here forty years.”
“You came here in 1968”.
“Yeah”, he said, “to avoid the draft”.
“Nelson or Vietnam? I think you made the right choice. But why did you come to Nelson?”
“Because pacifists had been coming to BC for years. The Doukhobors came here a century ago”.
His comments prompted a diversion from the highway this morning to visit the Doukhobor Discovery Centre at Castlegar.
The Doukhobors ere one of those radical Christian groups who made the mistake of taking Jesus too seriously when he urged people to non-violence. Persecuted in their native Russia for their pacifism they emigrated to Canada with the help of the great writer Tolstoy.
Settling in Saskatchewan, they lived a communal life and brought some quarter of a million acres of land under cultivation, but the Government introduced laws prohibiting them from holding the land in common, they must register individual plots in individual names. Registration included an oath of loyalty to the British king; the Doukhobors could not accept the oath and left their farms, receiving no compensation for their years of work. Neighbouring farmers queued for forty hours to register claims to the Doukhobor lands.
The Doukhobors made a great success of life inn British Columbia, good farms, craft industries, a large jam factory, they even built a suspension bridge at the town of Brilliant in 1913. But their charismatic community leader was assassinated in 1924 and his death marked the beginning of the long-term decline of the Doukhobor community.
It seemed a melancholic conclusion to a noble experiment.
Perhaps the storekeeper in Nelson would look back at the aspirations of 1968 and suggest that melancholic conclusions are the way of the world.