Constructing Law, Space, and their Subjects:
Landscape, Topography and Culture

7 of 20

Conflicting Conceptions of Land use among the Europeans:
The Doukhobor Example

It is not only between European settlers and aboriginal inhabitants that "mapping" and the relationship with land and topography produced such different mental and graphic images. Within the settler population there existed different conceptions of space, reflecting cultural differences, particularly where these manifested themselves in communities committed to individualism on the one hand and communalism on the other. Where the latter was connected with religious and spiritual beliefs which preached the equality of humankind and the divine spark within every human being, the relationship with land was, as in the case of Aboriginal folk, seen as having spiritual dimensions.

By way of example, between 1899 and 1907, friction developed in the Canadian west between the federal authorities who administered the dominion land survey and the homesteading system and the Doukhobors, Russian-speaking communal pacifists who migrated en masse to Canada in 1899. The homestead regime under the Dominions Land Act contemplated a landscape of individual square, symmetrical homesteads on which settlers dwelt and worked, with townships organized on a grid system where those who serviced the farm community were to live and work. The Doukhobors, while no less particular about the symmetry of their settlements, organized in rectangular lots fronting a wide mainstreet, chose to live in their townships as a community and to farm in lots scattered around the village in communal and cooperative fashion not on the large, more distant blocks delineated by the Dominion land surveyors. They were also more interested in locating their settlements to take advantage of topography and the availability of water and other resources than to cater to the demands of an externally imposed grid system. The Dominion land survey bureaucracy found this all very irksome.

Here are two photographs illustrating the pattern of village settlement and the communal working of the land.

Voskrisennie 1900

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Douhkobor colony 1899

The following sketch illustrates how Doukhobor and the Dominion land survey mapping processes could diverge.

Map of Douhkobor colony 1900

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The Dominions Land Act provided for the setting aside of land for those who lived and farmed communally. The provision embodied an exception originally granted to German speaking Mennonite religious communities. Despite the fact that the Doukhobors were granted permission to settle communally, disagreement over whether they were in fact using all the land made available, political caving in to demands from non-Doukhobor settlers hungry for land and the Doukhoborsí refusal to perfect their title by swearing the oath of allegiance led to Ottawa progressively breaking up the Doukhobor colonies. From 1908 there was a significant exodus of Doukhobors from Saskatchewan to British Columbia where the communal experiment was continued for three more decades, ironically by their leader, Peter Verigin the Lordly, buying up large tracts of land in fee simple.

DOCUMENT The Dominions Land Act
Stat. Can., 1886, ss.
8, 14, 32(1), (2), (3), 36(1), 37

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