Lt. Gov. Haverstock visits the Dugout House replica.
Sam James Popoff
Daughter of Sam James Popoff and deeply dedicated to her Doukhobor roots, she is honoured to be The Cave Saver.
Listen to the audio tape of Sam James Popoff speaking about the early years. (MP3 format, approximately 5 min. in length.)
Brenda's roots go deep at the Doukhobor Dugout House site. Her great-grandfather, Iakov Fedor Popoff (Jim Fred) was an 11-year old orphan who lived with 40 others in the 436-square-foot dugout built the year the Doukhobors arrived in Canada. It became the Popoff homestead in 1925. When Brenda's father Sam took over the farm, he valued the weathered remains of the original ravine house and passed on all of his stories to her.
"What struck me first and foremost about Brenda was the determination she displayed in having the dugout site -- long protected by her father Sam Popoff -- commemorated as a vitally significant element in the story of Doukhobor settlement in Saskatchewan," writes Dr. Margaret Kennedy, head of the University of Saskatchewan's Department of Archaeology. "She rose admirably to the task."
History is in the air at the dugout site in the dramatic sweep of the riverbend and down the ravine, and Brenda was touched by it. Here people lived, survived and dreamed of a new life, and of spring. The prayers and songs of the settlers continue to waft through this place of original settlement, giving the weathered boards of the dugout house a relic quality.
"Those caves symbolize an important part of our Doukhobor history. These people lived in the ground here for five years while they were building the village (Oospenie) across the road."
A replica of the Doukhobor Dugout House has been built at the edge of the ravine for those who cannot make the steep climb down.
"There's nothing more powerful than having something that physically belonged to an ancestor. It relates to our well-being and provides for the future."
Spurring her to save the cave was finding an old National Geographic magazine among her father's belongings. In it, she noted, her grandfather had given an interview about the value of the site. "That's when I decided it was time to find out whether this was the place the Doukhobors had originally settled."
It has meant much time and personal financial commitment, but Brenda, an aesthetician who lives nearby with her family, is not tiring. The story must be told.
For the past few years, more than 2,500 visitors per year from as far away as Italy have visited the house, with tours given personally by Brenda and her husband Dan. The visit of the Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan, Her Honour Dr. Lynda Haverstock in June of 2005 shortly after the site received Provincial Heritage Designation, was a great highlight. Then in August of 2008, it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
A non-profit corporation was formed to oversee educational and outreach activities at the site, Brenda notes, so it can "educate everybody about Doukhobor culture."