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Doukhobor Prayer Home


Other Names:

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Doukhobor Prayer Home is a simple one-storey building clad in asbestos shingles and a metal gable roof. The prayer home was constructed in 1954 with a kitchen added to the rear in 1983. The building is located on three lots in the Hamlet of Lundbreck.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Doukhobor Prayer Home lies in its identity as one of the few remaining Doukhobor buildings remaining in Alberta and as an excellent embodiment of the historical development of the province's Doukhobor community.

Originating as a protest movement against the ritualism and materialism of the Russian Orthodox Church, Doukhoborism emphasized the inherent divinity of every person as the primary guide to human fulfillment. As such, Doukhobors unequivocally rejected the taking of human life. Persecuted by the Tsarist government for their radical commitment to pacifism, the Doukhobors sought a new land in which to live out the precepts of their faith. Aided financially and organizationally by Count Leo Tolstoy and other sympathizers, the community was allowed by the Russian government to emigrate. The Doukhobors initially investigated Beaver Hill Lake southeast of Edmonton as a possible settlement destination, but their migration was barred, in large measure due to the vigorous opposition of Frank Oliver, Editor-in-Chief of the Edmonton Bulletin. Having secured concessions from the Canadian government on vital issues relating to their pacifism, rejection of oaths, and desire to live communally, more than 7000 Doukhobors emigrated from the Transcaucasia region to present-day Saskatchewan in 1899. It was the largest group migration to Canada in our nation's history. They hoped to found a society in Canada inspired by their awareness of the godliness of each human being. They preached a simple faith dedicated to solidarity and a community made holy through toil and peaceful life.

From the start, there were divisions within the Doukhobor community around issues of accommodation to North American culture. Private property ownership and taking the oath of allegiance necessary for gaining title to land were particularly divisive. Some asserted that all lands must be held in common in order to cultivate true Christian solidarity, others asserted that individual ownership should be permissible, provided that the owners continued to participate in the Doukhobors' communal life. These internal divisions were aggravated in 1907, when Minister of the Interior Frank Oliver established a commission led by Methodist missionary John McDougall to investigate the state of Doukhobor landholdings in Saskatchewan. Disturbed by the Doukhobors unorthodox religious life and their failure to abide by the provisions of the Dominion Lands Act, McDougall recommended that all Doukhobor lands not conventionally acquired be thrown open to settlement. Many Doukhobors refused to file individually for their land or to take the oath of allegiance necessary to acquire a homestead. These individuals were dispossessed of their land.

More than half of the Saskatchewan Doukhobors relocated to British Columbia. There they established several colonies and prospered. Success led to the creation of new communities, including the first Alberta colonies established in 1915 in the Cowley / Lundbreck area. Buoyed by a robust internal economy within the community that saw goods shipped between the colonies in the three western provinces, the Doukhobors continued to grow. The murder of the Doukhobor's leader, Peter the Lordly Verigin, in 1924, the economic hardships of the Depression, internal fragmentation during the 1920s and 30s, and the suspicions and antagonism of some of Alberta's political and social leaders devastated the community and led National Trust and the Sun Life Assurance Company to initiate foreclosure proceedings against Doukhobor communal assets in the three prairie provinces in order to secure a relatively small debt. This act effectively ended the Doukhobors ability to hold land communally.

The Doukhobor Prayer Home in Lundbreck is a remarkable building that embodies the tensions between the traditional and the modern, radicalism and accommodation, communalism and individualism, in Doukhobor culture, particularly after the devastating 1938 foreclosure. The prayer home is a simple structure constructed of modern materials and resembling a typical period community hall. Its lack of embellishment is consistent with the Doukhobors' rejection of religious iconography, but the building lacks the meticulous, lively woodwork that distinguished earlier Doukhobor buildings and embodied the community's commitment to sanctification through work. The interior space is separated by two banks of benches that divide men and women. As the earliest Doukhobors were largely illiterate and their worship services were devoted to the singing of hymns, there are few books present in the building. The wall features a number of documents - including documents registering the Doukhobors and their prayer home under state law, as well as several community certificates of achievement - that speak to the tendency of mid-century Doukhobors to engage the larger culture.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 2273)

Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Doukhobor Prayer Home include such features as:
- location in Lundbreck, a focus for Doukhobor settlement in the early twentieth century;
- simple, utilitarian construction that embodies both the practicality and iconoclasm of the
Doukhobor community;
- modern materials, including asbestos shingles and metal roofing, that express the mid-
century shift from traditional materials and construction methods of first-generation;
Doukhobors to the new architectural vision of second- and third-generation
- strikingly plain interior space reflective of the Doukhobors' iconoclasm;
- legal documents on the walls and certificates of achievement which speak to the greater
tendency of mid-century Doukhobors to engage and integrate into the larger culture;
- kitchen addition essential for the demonstrations of hospitality so central to Doukhobor culture.


Street Address: 753 Kettles Street
Community: Lundbreck
Boundaries: Lots 14 to 16, Block 15, Plan 2177S
Contributing Resources: Building: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
49.584069 -114.161517 GPS NAD83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2010/03/11

Historical Information

Built: 1954 to 1954
Period of Significance: 1954 to present
Theme(s): Building Social and Community Life : Religious Institutions
Historic Function(s):
Current Function(s):
Context: Among the fundamentalist groups from eastern Europe to seek a haven in western Canada in the early 20th century were the Doukhobors. Unlike most others, such as Mennonites and Hutterites, the Doukhobors were culturally Russian and dissenters from the Orthodox faith. Feeling persecuted under the regime of Tsar Nicholas II, about 7,400 of them sailed to Canada spring 1898-99. Most moved on to Saskatchewan, where they were joined by their spiritual leader, Peter Verigin in 1902. Here, they were granted exemption from military service and allowed to educate their children in their own schools. They sought to obtain homesteads near Yorkton, but, since gaining title to homestead land meant signing an oath of loyalty to the British (and Canadian) Crown, many abandoned their incipient farms and moved on to the southern interior of British Columbia, where, in 1908, Verigin was able to purchase, on their behalf, sizeable tracts of land at Brilliant (near Castlegar) and near Grand Forks in the Kootnay district, just north of the Washington State border. The colonies eventually included about 6,000 members. They called themselves the Christian Community of the Universal Brotherhood.

Because the colonies became so heavily populated, Verigin undertook to found other smaller colonies. One of these was begun in 1915 in the Cowley-Lundbreck district of southern Alberta, and initially included about 50 people. It was headed by Semeon Ivanovitch Verigin. Here, individual quarter-sections were purchased in relative proximity to each other. The spread-out colony was called "Bogatoi Rodnik," or "Rich Spring," and eventually totaled 13,500 acres with around 300 people. It became divided into 13 units, which featured grain elevators, flour mills, blacksmith shops and other buildings, including prayer homes. As a fundamentalist group, these people eschewed formalized churches. There was one dwelling at Cowley reserved for Peter "The Lordly" Verigin, for, although usually absent, he remained the spiritual and administrative leader of the colony, with each small commune within the colony electing its own local leader.

One of the purposes of this colony was to supply flour and other grain products to the BC colonies which had become too heavily populated within their geographic parameters to sustain themselves agriculturally, with much of the hilly land there given over to ranching, fruit growing and lumbering. Besides, being vegetarians, the Doukhobors required more than the normal amount of non-meat produce. As the Cowley-Lundbreck Colony was located on the southern branch of the CPR, it was easier, and cheaper, to ship produce from there to Brilliant and Grand Forks than from the larger prairie colony of Verigin near Yorkton, Saskatchewan. In return for the produce, fruit and lumber were sent from the BC colonies to Bogatoi Rodnik.

In 1924, Peter the Lordly Verigin was assassinated by a time-bomb which exploded in a train near Grande Forks, killing nine other passengers as well. His son, Peter Petrovitch Verigin, who was living in Russia, was sent for to assume the position of leader. However, another charismatic figure in Brilliant, Anastasia Holoboff, known as Anastasia Lords, a "close companion of the late leader," let it be known that she had been specially tutored by Peter the Lordly to be his successor. A rift then formed within the community. Most Doukhobors, including those around Cowley and Lundreck, accepted Peter Petrovitch, but, in 1926, a group under Anastasia broke away and formed a new colony in the district of Shouldice Alberta, which she called "The Lordly Christian Commune of Universal Brotherhood."

There were other splits forming in the main community of Doukhobors in BC, with some sects developing militant tactics against other Doukhobors as well as antagonistic non-Doukhobor neighbours. In Alberta, Anastasia's group experienced difficult times during the Depression, and the colony gradually diminished and disappeared. Michael Verigin explains also that money had to be borrowed to sustain the Cowley-Lundbreck Colony and:

In 1937, when the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in the three provinces had only a remaining debt of money borrowed equaling four percent of the total value of commune property, or $319,276, the Sun Life Assurance Company and National Trust Company began foreclosure proceedings and in 1938 the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. came to an end in BC, Saskatchewan, and here in Alberta, too. In 1939 we here in Alberta were offered our land back to be farmed privately, and about 200 Doukhobors accepted the offer, but close to 100 moved away to BC. Those of us who stayed, farmed out land on a crop-share basis, making payments to the National Trust Company for 10 years until the loan was paid off.

The trust companies thus effectively finished off the communal living around Cowley and Lundbreck. Their age old struggle to combat the assimilation of their young people into the mainstream of Euro-Canadian society was largely lost. Those who stayed to continue practicing their faith and worked as private farmers, and were registered as The United Doukhobors of Alberta, Cowley-Lundbreck. In 1953, a prayer home was erected by them in Lundbreck. The purpose of a prayer home has been described by Liuba Verigin:

The Doukhobors centres for worship are simple structures called 'Prayer Homes.' When the brethren gather for a 'sorbrania' (worship), the first act upon crossing the threshold is to give the ritual greeting: 'Glory to God.' The brethren seated in parallel rows respond: '(We) Praise and thank God for his grace.' Again a greeting is given: 'Christ is Risen!' and the response is: 'In the righteous Christ is Risen!'

At the head of parallel rows of brethren … is is a small table with a crocheted cloth. Both are made in the community and serve as a place to set the symbols of the Doukhobor faith: bread, salt and water. These elements have a rich symbolic meaning in the history of the religion. Bread, salt and water are the primary symbols of the faith. They represent life, hospitality and love to all mankind.

The Doukhobor population around Cowley and Lundbreck was never extensive in the post World War II period, and was estimated by John Friesen and Michael Verigin in 1989 to be less than 50. Their Prayer Home has nonetheless remained standing, a symbol of the Doukhobor faith as it persisted in southern Alberta during the mid and latter 20th century. The earlier community was commemorated in the 1970s by a provincial roadside sign near Cowley.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-1357
Designation File: DES 2273
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 96002
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8
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