Saturday, 20 February 2021

Review: Our Backs Warmed by the Sun

Book: Vera Maloff. Our Backs Warmed by the Sun: Memories of a Doukhobor Life (Halfmoon Bay, BC: Caitlin Press, 2020), 263 pp. ISBN 9781773860398.

Peter N. Maloff, 1939; and book cover.

The main hero, Peter Nikolaevich Maloff (1900-1971), was a Canadian Independent Doukhobor, a free thinker, an enthralling emotional speaker, a devout vegetarian, and one who was deeply concerned with humanity’s problems of exploitation, militarism and wars. He shared the Doukhobor historic mission of stopping wars and working to create a good society.

Vera Maloff
The author Vera Maloff of Shoreacres, British Columbia, Canada, is Peter’s granddaughter. After retiring from a career in teaching, Vera began to record family stories passed down from generation to generation. Through Peter’s self-published book, interviews with her mother Elizabeth (daughter of Peter), historic photos, and news clippings, Vera recreates some of the life of her grandfather Peter whom she adores.

Peter Maloff was born in Saskatchewan to parents who witnessed the 1895 Arms Burning event in Tsarist Russia, which marked the Doukhobor community for life as a group that proclaimed to the world that humanity needs to get rid of militarism and wars once and for all.

In 1913, young Peter moved with his parents to establish the communal koloniya svobody (sovereign, or freedom colony) near Peoria, Oregon, USA for three years. (Kolony svobody, The Doukhboor Gazetteer). There he entered high school and developed a keen interest in working towards a war-less world where equality reigns, behaviour would be nonviolent, and caring for neighbours would be the Golden Rule that was taught by Jesus Christ and other religious figures in history.

The commune dissolved in 3 years and the Maloff family went to San Francisco, California, for 9 months where they mingled with Molokane and other sectarians from Russia. Peter learned journalism and Russian grammar by assisting Russian publisher Anton P. Cherbak (Щербаков), and meeting many educated Orthodox Russian immigrants in the city.

About 1918 Maloff returned to Canada and settled among like-minded pacifist relatives in the Thrums area of British Columbia along the Kootenay River north of Castlegar. The community was independent in thinking with a few zealot Freedomite families living nearby that did not easily fit into the orthodoxy of the Community Doukhobors, who were known up to 1938 as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood.

The book title describes their field work in the hot sun tending to their vegetables and fruit trees. They sold their produce at markets in Nelson and Trail. They also had a horse or two, a cow, a goat and chickens. Most were vegetarians.

In the early 1930s, Peter became very sympathetic to the zealot cause of striving for equality, in being against private property and some objection to public education. However, when the zealots began to burn and bomb homes and public property and used nudity as a way to gain public attention, Peter opposed this terrorism. However, he was arrested for joining a march in sympathy to the cause, and was jailed for three years in Oakalla prison. His own home was threatened with arson and some of his books were burnt.

The biggest impact on Peter’s life as well as on the livelihood of the Doukhobor community was during World War II when Peter spoke out against militarism and wars. He refused to register for the Draft and was arrested, jailed, tortured, and threatened to be sent to a mental asylum and exiled in Canada in the early 1940s to an isolated two-room primitive isolated cottage near Blewett, about 23 km northeast of Thrums. His health was broken and it took several years to regain his strength.

In 1948, Peter published a collection of Russian articles some he wrote, many he collected that he thought would be of interest to Doukhobors. The 600+ page book, often cited in literature about Doukhobors, was never published in English, except for three articles listed below, bottom.

Author Vera wrote about this neglected eyesore in Canadian history through the voice of Peter’s daughter Elizabeth (Vera's mother) who was given the task of periodically visiting her father in exile bringing him essential food for his survival. The book reads well. Vera acknowledges the professional help of editor Anne DeGrace, who generously and skillfully prepared the manuscript for the final publishing form. Teamwork worked!

The book provides a good view of life amongst a close community group of pacifists with perspectives on values for survival, a passion for truth and justice, peace activism, conscientious objections, upbringing in the family, marriage traditions, land ownership, market gardening, visits to Dr. Bernard Jensen’s ranch in Escondido, California, and more. Vera’s mother Elizabeth (or Leeza) is a centenarian who with probing by Vera reveals the many facets of life of a struggling family showing what it means to be an active Doukhobor in the 20th century and beyond.

I was annoyed by the folksy English spelling of several Russian words, two of which were repeated by book reviewer Ron Verzuh. In my opinion these Russian words should have been properly transliterated according to the Library of Congress, or Oxford University Press standards — borshch (soup : not borsh, or borscht), pirogi (pierogi, filled tarts, turnovers, knish : not peerahee), and lekharka (female healer : not lyeekarka). (See more examples in: New Doukhobor Song Book, with CDs, May 28, 2013.)

Overall, this is a good read on the Doukhobors illustrated by excellent historic images, with special attention to Peter N. Maloff, the brave soul who has suffered for the cause of humanity. His truth was welcomed, but long overlooked by the general public. His granddaughter Vera has done a good turn by giving a voice to a nonkilling hero. Bolshoe spasibo, Vera. Many thanks!

If Peter Maloff was alive today, he would no doubt extend his anti-militarism call to include climate change, universal health care and drug programs for all, as well as urging all of us to make war a crime against humanity. Bolshoe spasibo (A big thank you), Peter! You were a visionary.

Fun fact: Maloff Spring, Thrums, B.C. was named after Peter N. Malloff who first filed for a permit to use the water in 1956.


Saturday, 13 February 2021

Remembering William Kanigan. (1931-2021)

William W. (‘Bill’) Kanigan of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan died January 15, 2021. His compassionate heart touched many lives, including mine. Bill was a generous friend who encouraged and financially helped me with my research during the Doukhobor Centennial in 1995.

In 1989 we published an article about him in Spirit-Wrestlers’ Voices. In 2001 he helped Jon Kalmakoff document the Kylemore Doukhobor Colony for Saskatchewan History. In 2017 we published and replied to an essay he composed with his son Kim about two streams of Doukhobors.

Bill is best known as ‘a responsible entrepreneur from the heart’ who for 27 years co-owned and operated the successful Buy Rite Furniture business in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He attributed his success to the importance of promoting and practicing co-operation, being gentle, solving problems with thoughtfulness and kindness.

The photo above shows the former Buy-Rite Furniture building (originally the Cockshutt Plow Co. warehouse) at 132 Idylwyld Drive, Midtown Saskatoon. The far end of the building was being demolished. May 17, 1988. Historical Collections, Saskatoon Public Library.

Photo below shows the Kanigan's furniture and appliance store at 220 20th Street West, Saskatoon. August 26, 1965. Local History Collections, Saskatoon Public Library

In 1962, Rnold H. Smith and partners purchased Kanigan Home Furnishings, which Smith operated until 1967. He eventually partnered with Bill Kanigan to establish Buy-Rite Furniture, and was joined by his brother Cecil Kanigan, who died in 2018. Over the years the store grew to a chain of eight province-wide stores. The Buy-Rite Furniture Factory was 2 kilometers north of the showroom at 901 1st Ave N, Saskatoon for railroad access. Smith retired from Buy-Rite in 1985, and died in 2008.

Bill was brought up in the Community Doukhobor settlement of Kylemore, Saskatchewan by devout parents William George Kanigan and Mary Kanigan (nee Makortoff) who instilled in him the values of compassion, honesty, usefulness, and a belief in nonviolence.

At home, Bill would frequently hear the importance of the Golden Rule, ‘Do unto others as you would do unto you.’ This keystone ethic he applied both at home and at work. He believed that an organization rarely survived for any length of time unless it was ethical and guided by ethical leaders. Although this formula placed a heavy burden on the individual and extracted a heavy price, Bill said that ‘it can be worth the effort’ as reflected in the success of his business.

In his retirement years, Bill, like his parents, was an accomplished singer in traditional Russian. He was a regular member of the Doukhobor Society of Saskatoon and participated in Sunday meetings and the summer outdoor Doukhobor bread baking project at the annual Saskatoon Exhibition. He recently served as an ‘Elder’ in the Society.

Visiting Russian Doukhobor artist Volodia Gubanov (left) shows
his sketch of Bill Kanigan (right), Saskatoon, SK, July 22, 1995.

In early 2001, Bill contributed his family history and 8 vintage photos of his ancestral Kylemore Doukhobor Colony for an article written by Jonathan Kalmakoff, published in the journal Saskatchewan History.

Family was important to Bill, always supportive and encouraging. In the summer of 2001, he and his younger son Ryan went to Moscow, St. Petersburg and other places in Russia, visiting the country of their ancestors. This was one of their highlights in being together.

With Bill's support, his oldest son Kim established a tool and die-making business in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. Bill described his son as ‘an entrepreneur with a conscience’ because his son refused to produce several thousand military badges — an action very consistent with the Doukhobor nonkilling legacy. Later, Kim migrated from Canada to the coast of Queensland, Australia, where he used his mechanical skills to refurbish vintage candy machines and founded Stillwater Sweets (Facebook).

In 2016, Bill and Kim communicated by Skype, and often pondered 'what is a Doukhobor based on historical and current facts'? Their dialog evolved into an essay 'The Two Streams of Doukhobor Faith: Apostolic and Inclusivist', published in the Saskatoon Doukhobor journal, The Dove, in 2016.

Bill Kanigan is survived by his wife Doris, children Karen, Kim (Leslie) and Ryan (Nancy Paris), grandson Robin and step-grandchildren Camrin, Megan and Mia. He leaves his sister Natalie Austin, sister-in-law Bernice Kanigan, nieces and nephews. A memorial is planned for a later date. Bill will be missed by a lot of people far and wide.

He was a friend indeed. We enjoyed publishing his essays.


  1. Three images of Bill, from (left) sketch by visiting Russian Doukhobor artist Volodia Gubanov, July 22, 1995, (center) Koozma J. Tarasoff, published in Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers' Strategies for Living (2002), page 221; and (right), obituaries online, below.
  2. 'File S-SP-A-25099 - Bill Kanigan' contains 16 Black & White photos of Bill Kanigan created on 12 Feb 1986, The StarPhoenix Collection, City of Saskatoon Archives.
  3. Rnold H. Smith biography in Pederson, Jen. ‘A Seat on Council: The Aldermen, Councillors and Mayors of Saskatoon - 1903-2006’, Edited and Revised by Jeff O’Brien October 15, 2015, The City of Saskatoon Archives, Office of the City Clerk, page 106.
  4. ‘Responsible Entrepreneurship From the Heart’, in Koozma J. Tarasoff. Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers’ Strategies for Living (2002): pages 219-221. — Much taken from Tarasoff, ‘Responsible Entrepreneurship: an attitude of the mind’, Spirit-Wrestlers’ Voices: Honouring Doukhobors on the Centenary of their Migration to Canada in 1899, 1989, pages 111-115.
  5. Obituaries online for William W. Kanigan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (December 24, 1931 - January 15, 2021) — Mourning Glory Funeral ServicesThe Star PhoenixTribute Archive.
  6. Bill Kanigan of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and his son Kim Kanigan, Queensland, Australia, posted a paper in The Dove, April 2017, pages 5-15, 'The Two Streams of Doukhobor Faith'. In response, K.J. Tarasoff and A.J. Conovaloff replied with: ‘Q80: Two Streams of Doukhobors?’, Spirit Wrestlers blog, 12 July 2017. — Are there two Streams of Doukhobors? Apostolic and Inclusivist?
  7. Kalmakoff, Jonathan J. 'The Kylemore Doukhobor Colony', 20 November 2010, published in Saskatchewan History (Spring/Summer 2001, Issue, Vol. 63, No. 1) , pages 9-18, references on pages 45-47. — See article in online journal (PDF); and at the Doukhobor Genealogy Website in PDF and HTML.