Sam James Popoff
The Doukhobor Dugout House has been preserved through the efforts of Doukhobor descendent and house property owner Brenda Cheveldayoff, in memory of her father, a history buff who passed his knowledge and recollections on to her.
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.”
Listen to the audio tape of Sam James Popoff speaking about the early years. (MP3 format, approximately 5 min. in length.)Listen
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 the 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.
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.”
For the past few years, more than 2,500 visitors throughout the Saturdays in July, visited the house. The property became provincially designated in 2005 and National Designated in 2008 as a National Historic Site of Canada. Lieutenant Governors of Saskatchewan throughout the years have attended ceremonies including the Honourable Dr. Lynda Haverstock, the Honourable Dr. Gordon L. Barnhart, and the Honourable W. Thomas Molloy. This 2021 season, the Doukhobor Dugout House awaits for His Honourable Russell Mirasty.
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.”
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