Russian Canadians: Their Past and Present (Collected Essays)
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
Allen Seager taught in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby.
Readers searching for a synthesis of the Russian-Canadian experience will be disappointed by Russian Canadians. Its value lies primarily in making available in the English language writings and data collected by members of the community. There is no tradition of academic research on the subject, and few of the fifteen essays in the collection would pass muster in a scholarly journal. Most are brief, disconnected snapshots of various Russian-Canadian institutions, both secular and religious, or ethno-cultural collectivities that fit, by one definition or another, into the ambiguous category of “Russian Canadians,” such as the Mennonites. The most solid and interesting contributions to the anthology are R.F. Piotrovsky’s survey of the migration of Russian nationals to Canada by way of Manchuria in the twentieth century, and N.G. Kosachova’s sketch of the equally unique Doukhobor communities, based primarily on secondary sources in the Russian language. E.W. Laine’s introductory essay, “On Documenting the Russian Presence in Canada,” relates the fascinating odyssey of the Likhachev, Ragozin, and Mathers Collection of the Public Archives of Canada, including 12,000 case files on individual Russian immigrants to North America that are only now becoming available to researchers. For specialists, the most useful section of the book will be found in its 64 pages of nominal and statistical appendices, including 42 annotated illustrations. These do portray some of the richness of Russian-Canadian life and history: rare views of exotic immigrant locales, such as the Russian volunteer fire brigade of Harbin, China; photographs of archeological materials which testify to the Russian presence on the Northwest Coast. Immigration propaganda, living conditions of working-class immigrants, and scenes that evoke memories of the turbulent world events in which Russian Canadians have been enmeshed are all illustrated here.
A number of the contributors are émigré Russians, trained at universities in Kiev or Leningrad, which speaks to the intellectual resources Canada has gleaned from the tragic failure of the Russian Revolution. The political focus of the volume is, not surprisingly, anti-Communist. Not unmentioned, however, are the activities of members of the socialist opposition, such as the tiny Kronstadt Group in eastern Canada, or the ironic attempts by Doukhobor representatives, self-styled “first champions of communism,” to emigrate back to Mother Russia in the 1920s and ‘30s. Mstislav Mogiljansky’s “First Russian Settlers in Canada” offers some intriguing though undocumented vignettes of socialist and revolutionary activity by Russian émigrés in Canada prior to 1914. A “certain Mikhail Zerniuk,” a Russian or Ukrainian veteran of the Potemkin uprising, is said to have been prominent as a labour agitator in the meat-packing industry in an un-named Canadian locale. A “man by the name of Kukhar, a fugitive revolutionary from exile in Siberia,” was similarly prominent in the construction trades. The claim that he “founded the first trade union of carpenters in Toronto” in 1913 is preposterous, but, clearly, one would like to know a great deal more about the Russian Canadians.