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1962: Doukhobor bomb blast ignites fear in B.C.

Starting in the 1920s, a British Columbia sect of Doukhobors known as the Sons of Freedom fought for peace with bombs and arson, and by stripping off their clothes for defiant naked public marches. Their targets were schools, government buildings and other sects of Doukhobors. On March 6, 1962, the Sons of Freedom are the prime suspects when a 100-metre power transmission tower is blown apart, cutting power to thousands. CBC Radio reports on the bombing that would lead to the end of the violence.
• The Doukhobor movement started in the 18th century among peasants in southern Russia. Its adherents were pacifists and also believed that God could be found within each person rather than from within the powerful Orthodox Church.

• In 1785, an archbishop accused the group of fighting against the Holy Spirit and called them Doukhobors -- spirit wrestlers in Russian. They welcomed the name, deciding that they were fighting for the Spirit.

• The Doukhobors were persecuted by the Russian czar after they burnt their guns as a symbol of their pacifism in 1895. The author Leo Tolstoy, also a pacifist, helped 7,500 of them immigrate to Canada in 1899. • The Canadian government welcomed the hardworking Doukhobors. It gave them land in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, exempted them from military service and allowed them to settle in communes.

• But within a few years, the policies changed. The government took back some of the land after the Doukhobors refused to swear allegiance to the British Crown. In 1907, about 5,000 Doukhobors, led by Peter Verigin, migrated to southeastern B.C.

• In B.C., many Doukhobors fought government efforts to assimilate them into Canadian society.

• In 1914, the B.C. legislature passed the Community Regulations Act. The act allowed the government to seize the community's property if individual Doukhobors did not register births, marriages and deaths or if their children didn't attend school regularly. B.C. abolished the act in 2002. • The Canadian government took away the Doukhobors right to vote from 1919-1956.

• The Sons of Freedom, also called Freedomites, was a small group of Doukhobors founded 1902 in Saskatchewan. • The Freedomites were widely believed to have burned down schools in B.C., in 1923, after police seized their land because their children didn't attend school.

• In 1924, a bomb destroyed a CPR railway coach carrying Doukhobor leader Peter Verigin. Verigin and as many as 18 other passengers were killed. No one was ever arrested. • Fire and bomb attacks continued for four decades. There were no casualties, but at least one bomber was killed accidentally during an explosion.

• Starting in 1953, about 170 Sons of Freedom children were seized from their families and placed in government residential schools. In 2004, B.C. Attorney General Geoff Plant offered his deepest regrets but would not issue a public apology. • On March 24, 1962, 150 RCMP officers rounded up 59 leaders of the Sons of Freedom sect for the bombing. They were charged with conspiracy to intimidate the governments of Canada and B.C.

• They were taken to the Mountain Institution, a prison built especially for them in Agassiz, B.C., about 115 kilometres east of Vancouver. It was built with metal huts that the Doukhobors could not burn down. Other Doukhobors who had been previously convicted of bombings and arson were also sent there. • After the arrests, Freedomite women burned down more than 200 of their own homes in protest. They staged nude parades and in June 1962, a group disrobed in front of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker while he was making an election campaign speech in Trail, B.C.

• On Aug. 7, 1962, 59 Freedomites were freed after a 38-day hearing and the conspiracy charges were dismissed. • In September 1962, at least 500 Freedomites began a march on foot nearly 650 kilometres from Krestova, B.C., to the prison in Agassiz. They arrived nearly a year later, on Aug. 21, 1963. • After the march, the movement calmed down. The arsons largely stopped.

• In 2001, an 81-year-old Freedomite woman appeared naked in a B.C. court. She was convicted of setting fire to a college building. • In the CBC Radio news report, there's a comparison to Algeria, where a brutal war for independence from France was under way. • As of 2006, there are estimated to be about 30,000 descendants of the original Doukhobor settlers across Canada. About half of them still maintain their traditional religious customs.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC News Roundup
Broadcast Date: March 7, 1962
Guest(s): C.W. Allan
Host: Bob Willson
Reporter: Roy LaValley
Duration: 1:42 Photo: Vancouver Sun

Last updated: February 13, 2014

Page consulted on February 13, 2014

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