Sunday, 17 April 2016

Northwest Profiles: Spirit Wrestlers

1995 news video about the Doukhobor Village Museum, Castlegar B.C.
Northwest Profiles: Spirit Wrestlers (video, 9-min) by KSPS Public TV, Spokane Washington, USA, 1995.
The highlight of this documentary for me was to see Christine Faminoff and Peter T. Oglow, the first Museum guides, interviewed at the Doukhobor Village Museum (built in 1971, now the Doukhobor Discovery Centre) in Castlegar, British Columbia. I knew them well.

Christine Faminoff (1953-1999) described Doukhobor history in Russia and Canada, including the settlement period with ‘six saw mills, two brick factories, and their world famous jam factory in BC’. Historic pictures were shown as she spoke. Her comprehensive short narration reflects her years of practice working at the Centre, greeting and educating thousands of tourists.

Christine and her parents lived in a traditional community home, the former residence of the MIR Centre for Peace located near the museum on land owned by Selkirk College. The college allowed them to remain in their home until death. Never married, Christine died at age 56 of breast cancer. In 2005 the Christine Faminoff Memorial Fund was launched to remember her service.

Peter T. Oglow (1921-2001), 83, reflected on his ‘very pleasurable experiences’ in living in the former community. He was among the last of the wooden spoon carvers, fortunately preserved in this video (min. 7:00). He reminded the public of the central Doukhobor legacy of ‘a peaceful life without fighting — something that is relevant to our present day society where everyone is fighting.’

Several factual errors were made:
  • Five images (min. 1:58 to 3.33) were shown as if they were Doukhobor-related. For visual drama, the news editor chose stock photographs of convicts (in shackles, hangings). The photos are not of Doukhobors.
  • A photo of women pulling a plow (min. 3:53) appears misplaced among photos and narration about new settlements in British Columbia. Men and women plowed only in Saskatchewan during the first years.
  • The myth that Queen Victoria (min. 2:27) gave written permission to Russian Doukhobors to come to Canada was created by P.V. Verigin to appease protesters. No document has been revealed that confirms this claim. See: Popular Myths or Fallacies about the Doukhobors #3, updated from 'Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers' Strategies for Living', by Koozma J. Tarasoff, 2002: pages 379-384.
  • More than half of the expenses for moving 7,500 Doukhobors to Canada was funded by the Canadian government, the remainder funded by the Doukhobors, Society of Friends (UK, US, Canada) and Lev Tolstoy (min. 2:30). Tolstoy also played an important role in reporting their harsh treatment in Russia, and petitioning for peasant reform for all the oppressed.
  • Frank Oliver succeeded Clifford Sifton as Minister of the Interior in 1905, not 1906, and this began the destruction of a spirit of cooperation between Doukhobors and the federal government.
  • In what is Saskatchewan today, the Russian Doukhobors were given 312,990 hectares (733,400 acres) of land in 1899. However, in June 1, 1907, they lost 258,880 acres (35%) of their land, not 200,000 acres as erroneously stated in the film.
  • Rather than the phrase 'prayer halls' (min 5:37) and 'prayer room' (min. 6:30), it is historically more accurate to use the English terms community/ cultural/ meeting + centre/ hall/ home/ house/ assembly, whether indoors or outdoors. Doukhobors have no 'church' or sacred room or building. In this museum, formal indoor meetings (sobranie) were held in the largest room.


  1. I agree with your corrections Koozma.
    I was there when this travelogue was filmed, but was not invited to participate.

  2. The date of birth and death after Christine's name shows that she was 46. Is that an error? Thanks Koozma, Kensky