In Russia, the Doukhobors had been exiled or sent to prison because they refused to fight for the Czar. They believed it was wrong to kill. Many died in the harsh conditions of Siberia.
At this time, the Canadian prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and Sir Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior, were advertising free land to encourage people to settle in Canada. Some people, including a Russian writer named Leo Tolstoy, decided to help the Doukhobors and arranged for them to move to Canada. The Canadian government offered the Doukhobors land to farm in the Saskatchewan district. They were promised free land, the right to their own religion, and a guarantee that they would not have to serve in the Canadian military.
The first Doukhobor immigrants left Russia aboard the Lake Huron on December 21, 1898. This group, numbering over 2 100 people, arrived in Halifax on January 23, 1899. Another group of 2 300 Doukhobors arrived several days later on the Lake Superior. This same ship returned and brought well over 2 300 more people. These Doukhobors had emigrated to Cyprus but the colony was not a success, so they decided to come to Canada. They arrived on May 21, 1899. A fourth ship carrying around 800 people had arrived earlier in May 1899 but was quarantined in Québec for 27 days because of smallpox. All in all, around 7 500 Doukhobors came to Canada in 1899.