The Doukhobors were among the first settlers of Saskatchewan, where nearly 8,000 first settled when they migrated to Canada from Russia in 1899 fleeing religious persecution. Translated to "Spirit Wrestlers" in English, the Doukhobors are a religious and cultural group that emerged in Russia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Their spirituality evolved out of their belief that the spirit of creation, or God, resides within each person and offers guidance and support to the individual and his or her community. Inspired by this concept of the “Living Book”, 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 and cultural practices based on their Christian origins but adapted to their communal lifestyle and world-view, which they brought with them when they immigrated to Canada. The Doukhobors’ spiritual beliefs and practices were transmitted and maintained orally for practical and spiritual reasons. As agrarian peasants, they had few opportunities to read and write. They feared that documenting their spiritual tenets might make them even more vulnerable to church and state oppression in Russia. They also believed that being able to speak and sing “from the heart” rather than from a book honoured the spirit of God within them.
In 2016 a collaboration was launched under the auspices of the Spirit Wrestler Productions non-profit to help preserve the oral history and spiritual traditions of the Saskatchewan Doukhobors for future generations through the creation of a documentary film and an immersive audio/visual installation. The project will document the Doukhobor 'moleniye' (translated as “prayer service”) as practiced by the Saskatchewan Doukhobors, capture the oral history of Doukhobor elders, and explore how the community has evolved since first immigrating to Saskatchewan almost 120 years ago.
Spirit Wrestler Productions was founded and is managed by Ryan Androsoff, who is a life-long member of the Doukhobor community in Saskatchewan and a direct descendant of the original group of Doukhobors that immigrated from Russia in 1899. Dr. Ashleigh Androsoff, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Saskatchewan and member of the Doukhobor Society of Saskatoon, has partnered with the group for historical and ethnographic research work that will be included in this project. Brad Proudlove is the lead video media artist involved in the collaboration, and Saskatoon-based production company Bamboo Shoots as well as independent videographers Lisa Unrau and Greg Allison have been engaged for some specialized filming for the project. Gemini nominated composer and audio-engineer Ross Nykiforuk is leading the audio aspects of the project.
We are also honoured to have the support of the Doukhobor Cultural Society of Saskatchewan and the Doukhobor Societies of both Saskatoon and Blaine Lake who supported the recording of a prayer service at the Blaine Lake Doukhobor Prayer Home in October of 2016 and have financially contributed to the project.
In July of 2018 a MOU with the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was announced. Through this collaboration, the Western Development Museum will host the multimedia "Spirit Wrestler Soundscape" that is being developed as part of the Living Book Project, and will also be developing an accompanying exhibit about the Doukhobors that will feature items from their collection of historical artifacts. It is anticipated that the soundscape and exhibit will launch at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon in the Summer of 2019.
Progress to Date
Since the fall of 2016 we have spent significant time and effort professionally capturing nearly 100 hours of unique audio and video recordings of the Doukhobor community in Saskatchewan that will be used for both the documentary film and multimedia installation and exhibit. This has included:
We have also begun work on reviewing archival footage and other historical materials from the Saskatchewan archives as well as those that have been generously shared with us by Doukhobor societies and individuals from the community. We have also been working with our audio and video experts to start to the process of preparing our recordings for editing and production.
For further information on the project, please see the following links to media coverage that our work has received:
Almost 120 years since first settling in Saskatchewan, the province remains home to a small, but active Doukhobor community:
In addition, the Doukhobor Cultural Society of Saskatchewan serves as an umbrella organization for all Saskatchewan Doukhobor societies and helps to promote public awareness of the Doukhobors, including publishing a quarterly magazine called The Dove.
We need your support to complete this important work, and any amount helps! With a donation of $50 or more you will receive a complimentary DVD copy of the documentary film when completed. For a donation of $100 or more you will also receive a complimentary ticket to the grand premiere event for the film.