Why would a group of over 2,000 people march naked across Western Canada’s prairies ?

Settling Canada’s West:


Kremlin Russia

The largest migration to Canada at one time, (8,000 people) the Doukhobors have been a little known factor in the settling of the west in Canada. When you read and research Canadian history you will discover mainly Anglo-Franco activities that are documented.

The Doukhobors were considered a pacifist group. But they challenged the Czar and the Orthodox Church In Russia and Russia appeared to be happy to let the troublemakers go. Canada opened their doors.  But it wasn’t all kindness on Canada’s part. The Doukhobors were great farmers and well able to handle the harshness of cold winters and isolation better than most.


Vosnesenia village, NE of Arran, Saskatchewan (North Colony)

Yet the question is – why did many Doukhobors start marching across the western prairies?  In 1902, 2000 or so Doukhobors –  many naked, calling themselves – The Sons of Freedom marched across the cold prairies.  They were searching for Utopia – the land of milk and honey. The Canadian government reports they marched in protest against having to sign allegiance to Canada (something their religion didn’t believe should be done).  And they were ordered to stake claim to square sections of land – privately owned, rather than share communal lands.  It was probably a reason but why naked?  Many Doukhobors, who didn’t win against the government, moved to British Columbia, where the laws didn’t say they must own the land in individual square parcels.

In Paradise on the Horizon my heroine escapes Russia, by joining the Doukhobors migration.

Paradise on the Horizon by Mary M Forbes

Finding Friday – The Settlers in the west

A little history of the Canadian West

Saskatchewan Anglican

Before settlers arrived in any numbers, the Canadian government set up Northwest Mounted Police forces in forts scattered throughout the west.  It is a tribute to them that settling the west was done in a mainly law and orderly fashion.

It was then the government started recruiting farmers who mainly came from Europe to escape persecution.  My grandmother talked of being on a ship crammed into the ships’ holds for over a month, then put on a train for a few thousand miles –  to step out into a wilderness I doubt we can imagine.  Nothing – absolutely nothing with many places having no trees as well. They often settled in groups as English was not their first language.  My grandparents learned English very fast though.  Schools were set up to teach only English as well.  People were assimilated very quickly into Canadian society at that time.

For building a dwelling, digging up 10 acres and digging a well within a year, families were given 160 acres (1/4 section) of land. All their implements and livestock was purchased. The land was plotted into squares (which if you recall was one of the reasons the settlers – mainly Metis – were not happy).  My grandparents with ten children lived in a sod hut. When my mother, the youngest was born, it was that year they moved into a wooden house.  They lived in Southern Saskatchewan and my grandfather took his grain to elevators over forty miles away by horse and hay-rack.

The largest single group of people were the Doukhobors.  8,000 came from Russia when allowed to leave.  They settled mainly in Manitoba or Eastern Saskatchewan.  But again the government’s square section idea wasn’t liked by the Doukhobors either.  Many moved to British Columbia to avoid that rule.

Indian Head

The other migration was mainly from Northern Europe – Germans, Ukrainians, Swedes, Norwegians, Polish but some migrated from the UK as well. Most of these were not farmers but people trying to escape their meager life in the cities.  They actually had signs saying – Englishman need not apply.  But those were different times than now.  In my research I discovered that when someone like Barr tried to set up an all English settlement, chalk diagrams of how to harness a horse were given as well as the inability of many not understanding their livestock needed feeding.  They often kept the horses tied up on a short rope so they weren’t able to graze.

But it is amazing to see what those farmers accomplished in a short period – from building schools, churches and hospitals (usually without government assistance) to turning our west into the bread-basket of the world  and especially helping us to have the life-style we enjoy today. Communities paid for their own doctors, teachers and ministers.  Winter moon

Setting for Paradise on the Horizon

The Doukhobors, one of Canada’s largest immigration groups were from Russia.They were a strange religious sect to many people.  They were peaceful, refused to fight but were excellent farmers.  They were certainly a great group to settle  the prairies of Canada.  Then one day at the beginning of the 1900’s Canada’s hostile plains defeated them.  Nearly half calling themselves ‘Sons of Freedom‘ went marching, mostly naked in the cool spring searching for Utopia. My heroine, Natasha – a Russian Princess, escapes from Russia with the Doukhobors.

Researching further I discovered Canada was fighting in the Boer War in South Africa.  British Kitchener decided to appease the people complaining in England he would use any and all examples of abuse and severely punish any soldier, Canadian or English charged with atrocities, true or not.  My hero  – a Canadian soldier – is one of those wrongly charged.

Disowned by his family and friends he goes out west.  He first hires himself out as a guard to stop the Sons of Freedom before they freeze to death.  He discovers that a Reverend Barr is starting up a colony on the Saskatchewan/Alberta border.  Until he can clear his name, as Barr wants only good English stock in his colony, Luke becomes a farmer.  He knows nothing of farming but helps Natasha escape the Doukhobors knowing she does, thinking she is a Doukhobor.

All these incidents tied together so well – true incidents, my story Paradise on the Horizon, was created.

Teaser Trailer on Paradise on the Horizon

Lies and Conflict

“Stepan is my nephew. He would never hurt his aunt.”  Katya interrupted, her voice rising hysterically.  “I’m not going with Boris. He’s going with those Spirit Wrestlers.  Why the Czar was just saying how much trouble those people are causing…”

“They won’t even fight.”  Prince Alexander snorted “And what use would Stepan have for you?  All you’re good for is spending money, Cheri.  Will you stop being so selfish?  Tashya is only fifteen.  She needs you.”

“But the Doukhobors are peasants.”

“Enough.”  Alexander stood and nodded towards the huge man standing in the doorway.  “Take them, Boris, and guard Tashya.”

Hardships in a new world

     “Since it’s obvious you have no money, sweetheart or clothes for that matter, just how are you planning on getting on the train?”  Laughter edged his words.

“I’m sorry. I believe I do need help.”  Inside her heart was sinking. Her leaving the Doukhobors wouldn’t harm this man, even slightly.  Yet it meant everything to her.

“Did they mistreat you?”  Luke asked, compassion filling his eyes.  They certainly didn’t look cold now, she realized with surprise.  “I saw some pictures, in the newspapers back East.  They had women hooked up to plows, like horses. Did you plow fields, like a horse?”

“If that were all they made me do, I’d be happy.”  Natasha swallowed, wishing she hadn’t set the bottle of wine back on the table.  She needed another drink.

Unlikely relationship

     “Are soldiers in Canada better than a Princess?”

“Better than?”  Luke shook his head, puzzled.  “You lost me somewhere, sweetheart.  I think anyone might be better than a Russian Princess.”

“Why?”  Natasha blinked back her shock.  So, he did think he was too good for even a Russian Princess.  What an odd idea.

“The decadence and atrocities that go on with those Russian aristocrats are notorious.  They don’t treat people like you very well so I’ve heard so why would you care?”  Luke’s voice was puzzled as he stared at her.


“Natasha,” Luke began hesitantly.  She deserved to know the truth.  “I love another woman.”

“You don’t belong here.  Go to her.”  Standing abruptly, Natasha stomped over to the shelf and yanked down their tin plates.  Slamming them down to the table, she showed her hurt like a banner.

Luke wanted to take her back into his arms and soothe the hurt away.  He only wanted to touch her again and that thought was painful. His need for Natasha was gut-wrenching. He could understand her anger.  He was angry himself.

From escaping Russia to running from the Doukhobors (a peculiar religious sect) to fighting for the love of a man who loved another, follow Luke and Natasha’s story in

Paradise on the Horizon

Publishing Companies and Guidelines


5. Any story that only allows for one type of genre (such as comedy, drama, action, etc).

This was  in the list Sean gave for over-used story lines.  The predictable story in Genre writing could be a drawback to future readers.  Perhaps it is time to remove some of the necessary stories/characters that publishing companies require.  Does anyone else feel that genres might be stifling the creativity of writers?

Mainstream gives some flexibility but is often stifled by ‘content’ – although the rigid storyline might not be silented often the story-line might not be allowed – which brings many of my points in over-used story lines into play as well. 

This is a bit of advice when considering writing Genre. 

Always get a copy of the guidelines from the publishing company or companies you are targeting.  The publishing companies have a guideline of do’s and do not’s that might be a surprise – and they change.  So remember to get ‘up-to-date’ guidelines as well.  Some topics they don’t deal with might surprise you.

While they might accept a struggling heroine in Romance – she shouldn’t be homeless.  To have a hero as struggling – is not their type of hero. The hero is usually successful in his career as well as being older.

In Romance – although they accept certain types of musicians that is limited as well. It would be a lot of work to write about a Rap singer as an example – only to discover he was not an acceptable hero.  I was surprised to discover that sports weren’t accepted most places as well.  I would have thought that they would often fall into the category of a Romance hero.   He would be their ‘formula’ of a man who builds himself up – becomes wealthy and often keeps himself grounded as well. I don’t know if his age and wisdom comes into play.  Most sports figures are young.

My second suggestion would be not to have your characters just fall into bed with each other because they can’t control their physical attraction.  Although there are certain sub-genres even in Harlequin which often make me think I’m reading porn – and just as often I wonder if this is what the public wants and asking for today.  These types of books have been on the market a few years now – so I would assume there is a demand for them. This would be an example of changing guidelines.

Historical Romances are somewhat different – but I would still suggest you get the company’s guidelines.  I have been advised by companies they are not interested in Canadian content for example.  Canada, like every other country in the world, has some interesting history often like the USA – and even interesting history that has never been used in fiction writing.  I would think it would be something different – but I would be thinking wrong by publishing company standards.  I cannot begin to count the number of times I have been told that.

‘Boy meets girl in Winnipeg – and so what?’ was actually a line I read once – and so my ‘Hawk’s Gift’ was born.  The Riel Rebellion was a Civil War – not nearly as long or devastating as the American Civil War – but I’m sure to the people involved – it was disturbing for them.

In Canada there is a mine reputed to have as much gold as the gold found in the Yukon.  This mine – called the Lost Lemon Mine – is supposed to be in the Crowsnest Pass area of Alberta.  It is said that anyone touching the gold will suffer dire consequences.  The curse was put on by the Indian Tribes of southern Alberta.  And so my ‘Alberta Wild Rose’ was born.

Again, while researching I discovered a large group of Doukhobors migrated to Canada – then a few years later many of this group ‘cracked’ under the strain of hardships they suffered – and went marching across the barren prairies searching for Utopia – naked.  They called themselves the ‘Sons of Freedom’. At the same time Canada was fighting in a war – the Boer War in South Africa with the British.  As this was an unpopular war a British leader – Kitchener – decided to set up his soldiers for any imagined or unimagined slight – and feed them to the press to take the pressure off fighting the war.  There was also a man who decided to set up farmlands using only good English stock instead of foreigners.  This settlement failed as I imagine any successful farmer in England was content to continue farming in England.  When I combined all these fascinating incidents – ‘Paradise on the Horizon’ was born.

There was a point during my insecurities I thought of changing ‘locations’ to please the publishing companies.  Now, I am glad I didn’t. I have learned it is best to write what you love and what you enjoy rather than follow ‘guidelines’.

I will not take away from writer’s that do follow guidelines.  To me it is an example of our individualism. There are many ‘genre’ books I read and enjoy.  Just as there are times when the ‘accepted’ form is ignored by a writer and still published.

Good luck to all writer’s regardless of their preferences.