Saskatchewan Doukhobor Prayer Service Preservation Project

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’ve embarked on an exciting – and fairly ambitious – project to preserve the spiritual traditions of the Saskatchewan Doukhobors. Details are on the crowdfunding page for the project (more on that in a moment) but for readers of this blog I wanted to share some of my inspiration for this project and an update as to where things are at.

First let’s back up for a moment and try quickly tackle the question of “who are the Doukhobors?” for those who may not be familiar. The Doukhobors were one of the founding cultural groups of Saskatchewan, where some 7,500 first settled when they migrated to Canada from Russian in 1899 as refugees fleeing religious persecution. Inspired by their concept of the “Living Book” – that the spirit of the divine resides within each person – the Doukhobors adopted pacifism and resisted military conscription. Isolated and persecuted by the Russian authorities for their beliefs, they developed a unique form of spiritual worship based on their Christian origins but adapted to their communal lifestyle and world-view. The Doukhobors’ spiritual beliefs and practices were transmitted and maintained orally over the generations, and even once they had settled in Canada it has remained largely undocumented.

This is a project of personal passion for me as one of the last direct descendants of Saskatchewan branch of Doukhobors (for a number of complex reasons – including issues around losing the original land granted to them when they immigrated to Canada – the community in Canada split around the 1907 time period). For a number of years I have felt the need to take action on preserving the essence of the traditions and history of the community, particularly with regards to our spirituality. While there have been a number of documentaries and historic texts created over the years that have captured Doukhobor history and culture, there has been little focus in these works on the spiritual practices of the Doukhobors in detail.

With the rapidly declining membership of Doukhobor societies in Saskatchewan and the aging of those who are left, there is a limited window left to capture and preserve the experience of a Doukhobor prayer service for future generations. Hence this project was born. The plan is to create two products out of our labours over the coming year:

A documentary film that combines footage of a prayer service, interviews with members of the Doukhobor community, and archival footage, to explain how a Saskatchewan Doukhobor prayer service works and how they have evolved over the years.

An immersive exhibit suitable for a museum or gallery that will use the audio and video captured from the prayer service to allow viewers to experience being a part of the prayer service itself. Inspired by the Cardiff “sound sculpture” at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa (but also adding in a three-dimensional video element) the idea behind this exhibit is to allow people to walk within the space that a Doukhobor prayer service would occupy and experience the unique feeling of being part of the community singing to each other in spiritual communion.

To bring this all to reality I’m partnering with Saskatoon film production company Bamboo Shoots and Gemini nominated composer and audio-engineer Ross Nykiforuk to do a professional recording of a traditional prayer service with the Saskatchewan Doukhobor community this October. Saskatoon-based media producer Brad Proudlove will also be supporting the production, as will Dr. Ashleigh Androsoff (Department of History, University of Saskatchewan) who is contributing to the historical and ethnographic research involved with this project.

None of this would be possible without the support of the local Doukhobor community in Saskatchewan. I’m honoured to have the Doukhobor Cultural Society of Saskatchewan and the local Doukhobor organizations across Saskatchewan supporting the project and actively working towards the recording session of a prayer service this October. Last week I was in Saskatoon and I had an opportunity to attend a choir practice of the core group planning to be a part of the project; I have no doubt this is going to be a powerful experience for everyone involved!

We have also had some recent media coverage on the project:

– Online article by CBC:…

– Radio interview with Brent Loucks (650 CKOM in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) on the project (runs approx 7min):…

– Full radio show about the Doukhobors and the project on the Tuesday Morning Special Blend (CKCU 93.1 FM in Ottawa, Ontario) with Mike Powell and Adam Coombs (runs approx 1 hour):…

I’m really pleased that the project is gaining attention and momentum, and hope that we can continue to spread the word. Because of course, nothing in life is free. Though this is being run on a non-profit basis, to fund the technical costs for the first phase of the project we are anticipating that we need to raise approximately $15,000 over the next couple of months. I decided to take the route of running a crowdfunding campaign over the summer to put together the seed money we need to make this project a reality.

This is where you come in. If you are inspired to do so, we would gladly accept donations of any amount to help us get towards our goal. As with any good crowdfunding campaign there are perks! For example, for donations of $50 you will receive a complimentary copy of the film on DVD, and for donations of $100 you will receive the DVDs along with a ticket to the grande premiere of the project next year. Full details on the project and how to make a donation online are available here via Indiegogo:

From the bottom of my heart: thank you! I sincerely appreciate all of your support and encouragement on this project. It’s going to be a lot of work, but well worth it. I hope that I will do my Doukhobor ancestors proud on this one.