Escaping religious and cultural persecution in Russia, 7,500 Doukhobors were exiled to Canada in 1899 with the financial support of the Quakers, and the writer and philosopher, Leo Tolstoy, along with his supporters. In 1898, a notable arts activist and professor at the University of Toronto, James Mavor, also helped the emigrants. Once in Canada, however, the Doukobors were forced to move until they settled permanently in the Kootenays, British Columbia.
From the start, women played an important leadership role in developing communal life, supervising the design and construction of the village and continuing traditional crafts. While the men were building railroads to earn money for supplies, the women were breaking ground for gardens and keeping the community connected and productive.
Canadian Doukhobor women were very resourceful at growing their own food and plants for crafting. Wool and linen were the earliest fibers used for fine weaving of hand towels, tablecloths and clothing. Repurposing materials such as burlap or cotton from sugar and flour sacks, the women made pillowcases, nightgowns, baby clothing and diapers. Practical everyday items such as bread and tart covers, as well as traditional shawls were often decorated with colourful embroidered floral patterns. When the hand sewn “adult attire became threadbare, it was often remanufactured into children’s clothing or even men’s handkerchiefs.” http://doukhoborcis.org/index.htm
Since their arrival, many Doukhobor cultural values, such as objection to war, the development of a sharing economy, communal living, vegetarianism, and home education were not respected by the Canadian Government. The women shouldered much of the hardship as Doukhobor men were imprisoned and their children were forcibly removed and placed in residential schools.
Today, The Cultural Interpretive Society is a non-profit group of Doukhobor women and friends “dedicated to the preservation and celebration of traditional Doukhobor fibre arts and crafts.” In order to promote the protection of the environment and to promote peace and friendship, the women meet Monday and Wednesday mornings at 9AM to work on sewing projects that include donating their charitable work to individuals and communities in need, locally and globally.
“Our ultimate goal is to promote peace and friendship as we embrace members from the larger Castlegar community, regardless of ethnic origin or spiritual affiliation. We all strive toward a common goal of working in harmony through sharing and learning.”