Vera Maloff shares her family’s history, the struggles of living a pacifist, agrarian life in a world with opposing values. Photo: Submitted

Vera Maloff shares her family’s history, the struggles of living a pacifist, agrarian life in a world with opposing values. Photo: Submitted

Kootenay author releases first-hand account of Doukhobor community

Vera Maloff is also publishing never-before-seen-photographs

For many, the Doukhobor story is a sensational one: arson, nudity and civil disobedience once made headlines.

But it isn’t the whole story.

In Our Backs Warmed by the Sun: Memories of a Doukhobor Life (Caitlin Press, 2020), author Vera Maloff, through the stories of her mother, Elizabeth, shares her family’s history, the struggles of living a pacifist, agrarian life in a world with opposing values.

“At this time many around the world are speaking out against racism and brutality,” says Maloff. “This story about my family and my Doukhobor people is about how they stood up for justice and peace in their time through nonviolent actions, despite governmental and societal retribution.

The Doukhobors—both the Sons of Freedom and moderate sects—led anti-military protests throughout the early 1900s, harboured draft dodgers in the 60s, and stood up for their beliefs.

In response they were hosed down, arrested, and jailed.

As a child, Elizabeth and her family were interned in an abandoned logging camp while their father served time in Oakalla Prison for charges related to a peaceful protest. Later, Elizabeth and other children were institutionalized—one of a series of Canadian government efforts in assimilation.

In writing the book, Maloff says she “gained a deep respect and empathy for members of my family and an understanding of the difficult road they tread. Their lives and the lives of us, their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were molded by the choices they made.”

Tracing the Doukhobor movement from Russia, Our Backs Warmed by the Sun explores the spiritual influence of its leaders, providing integral context to a significant historical movement that spanned six decades.

Maloff does not shy away from the controversial actions of the Sons of Freedom in the darkest days of bombings and arson, or the toll on families and communities, probing with a historian’s curiosity and a daughter’s tenderness.

It was difficult to write about, admits Maloff.

“Sharing those dark moments was at times painful for [my mother and my aunts], especially when they had been blocking grief and agony for years. They did so with dignity, without regret or blame. I hope I have done their memories justice.”

The Doukhobors are a Spiritual Christian religious group of Russian origin.

There are an estimated 65,000 people of Doukhobor descent living in Canada today.

Photo: Submitted

Yet, in the 2011 Census, only 2,290 indicated Doukhobor as their religion. The Doukhobors faced persecution particularly for their pacifist objections to military service and in February 1898, the Russian Tsar granted permission to the Doukhobor group of conscientious objectors to leave Russia.

Approximately 8,780 Doukhobors emigrated to Canada from 1899–1930.

The original settlement of Doukhobor colonies took place in the Northwest Territories (which would become Saskatchewan in 1905). Approximately 5,000 settlers left Saskatchewan to live in British Columbia between 1908–1911.

However, the Government of Canada did not uphold their guarantees to the Doukhobor community and tensions emerged between the government and the Doukhobors as well as within the community itself.

Vera Maloff was raised in the Kootenay valley of British Columbia.

Her writing, including the new memoir, reflects the influence of her Doukhobor grandparents, who were active in the peace movement.

After retiring from a career in teaching, Vera began to record family stories passed down from generations.

“I hope that readers will develop an understanding of the diversity of Doukhobor lives and go beyond the bizarre news reports that have dominated Doukhobor topics in the past,” says Maloff. “I hope they can understand the passion that drove my grandfather, to act on his conscience, even when sacrificing the best interests of his family.”

Koozma J. Tarasoff, an ethnographer, writer, and peace activist, who knew Peter N. Maloff, wrote, “Granddaughter Vera retraces his turbulent life through manuscripts, newspapers, and interviews with family members and others—giving us a picture of what it was like for him and his family and friends to go against the grain. For those who dare to actively work for peace and truth, this is a book for you.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Local History

Just Posted

Adrian Moyls is the Selkirk College Class of 2021 valedictorian and graduate of the School of Health and Human Services. Photo: Submitted
Selkirk College valedictorian proves mettle in accomplishment

Adrian Moyls is a graduate of the School of Health and Human Services

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

The pilot of this single-engine propeller plane was unhurt after crash-landing in a Como Road orchard Friday, June 18. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Plane crash lands into Grand Forks orchard, pilot injured

RCMP have secured the crash site, pending investigation by Transport Canada

Author John Vaillant joins Lisa Moore and Fred Wah for Elephant Mountain Literary Festival’s Alumni Reading on Friday, July 9. All three authors were featured at the inaugural festival in 2012. Photo: Submitted
FESTIVAL TALES: When 2012 meets 2021

The Elephant Mountain Literary Festival will include authors from the event’s inaugural year

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack to be renamed to remove racist taint

New name to have Indigenous significance as Chilliwack takes new step toward reconciliation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

Bella Bella is on B.C.’s Central Coast, accessible only by air and ocean. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
B.C. provides $22 million for Heiltsuk development on Central Coast

Elders care home project, tourism, lumber mill supported

Most Read