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Doukhobor Historic Site Provides Enjoyment For All

by Shanine Sealey

If you have never made the journey on Highway 12 to the Doukhobor Dugout House, located on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, you still have two more opportunities to get out to the area, which has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada and experience an interesting part of Saskatchewan history.

The Doukhobor Dugout House will be open July 24 and 31 from 10am to 5pm and is $10 per person – with free admission for those 12 and under.

The drive to the historical site is breathtaking to say the least as I personally always enjoy the view at the Petrofka Bridge. Signs for the Doukhobor Dugout are located along Highway 12, and once you turn off, there is a short drive on a gravel road, then you are taken back in time to learn about the Russian Doukhobor immigrants that established this land in 1899 after fleeing their homeland.

Typically, guided tours take place along the property where you learn about each area; however, this year, upon arriving, you are provided with a map that you can use to do a self-guided tour.

This past Saturday, there was an opportunity for visitors to not only get a glimpse into the way of life for the Doukhobor people, but to also have a chance to experience the physical challenges that they faced. A demonstration of how the Doukhobors plowed their land using their own strength was done with members of the audience working together to plow a line in the field.

Following the demonstration, we set off on our own self-guided tour along the property using the provided map and were amazed at the history we learned along the way. Our first stop was the dugout house, which is the only known surviving example of this form of temporary shelter within the country. The Doukhobors that settled in the Blaine Lake area utilized the natural landscape to help survive the harsh winter and limited availability of building materials. They created temporary dwellings that were located in a sheltered ravine and used until 1904 while permanent log houses were being constructed nearby. A total of 300 people lived in the dugout houses, with one 436 square foot area housing nine families who would cook and sleep within it.
The next stop was the Oospenia Spring, which is the reason the Doukhobors chose this particular location as the spring was used as a drinking water source, as well as a water source for livestock and farming operators. The spring flows year-round with water from the North Saskatchewan River.

Following the spring, we hiked back up the trail to the Doukhobor Barn, then to the Doukhobor Workshop, followed by a stop at the Leo Tolstoy House. Tolstoy, a famous Russian author that is best known for his book ‘War and Peace’, helped the Doukhobors by donating royalties from his book, ‘Resurrection’ to their emigration.

We then moved on to the Doukhobor Banya (bath house) before taking a short break to indulge in a cold beverage and delicious meal of Doukhobor bread grilled cheese sandwiches with dill pickle pasta salad and a dove cookie for dessert. I also couldn’t resist the urge to purchase a loaf of Doukhobor bread to bring home with me. As our food was being prepared, we took a moment to explore the museum and gift shop. While eating, we enjoyed the views of the river from The Lordly Patio area.

After eating, the final stop was the Doukhobor Prayer House, which you are able to enter and explore to learn even more about the Doukhobor people.

I would definitely recommend taking the short drive out to spend an afternoon of enjoyment, history, fresh air, good food and beautiful scenery and can guarantee I will be visiting this location again in the future.

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