Although naked protesters often seem like a modern phenomenon, they are not just a product of the hippie 1960s. One chilly example comes from the Doukhobor splinter sect in Canada known as the Freedomites (also also called Svobodniki or Sons of Freedom). Originally refugees from religious persecution in czarist Russia, the Doukhobors settled in Canada in the late 1800s and lived somewhat communally, but they differed among themselves as to how much communalism was appropriate. Inspired by Tolstoy, who wrote from Russia that whether it was defended by the state or the individual, private property went hand in hand with violence, the Freedomite contingent renounced all property, which they attempted to symbolize by marching nude. On one such occasion in the winter of 1903,
The Freedomites decided to demonstrate their beliefs to the other Doukhobors and stripped naked, as free from possessions as Adam and Eve, and marched through the villages. They ate leaves and grass like their animal brothers and begged others to follow them.
This being Canada in winter, it was chilly:
Thus it seemed a miracle when they did not freeze to death:
There were fifty-two of the marchers when they ran into Peter Verigin who was driving his carriage. The Freedomites demanded that Verigin free his horse. Peter the Lordly refused. The Freedomites, of course, thought he meant the opposite so they unharnessed the animal and set it loose. They marched on down the road while Verigin sent word to the next village to stop them. There the naked marchers were whipped with willow switches until their legs bled. Women and children were removed from the march but the men continued on.
That night, as the temperature dropped, the Freedomite men huddled together for warmth. Other Doukhobors, clad in sheepskin coats, gathered around and embraced them to keep the men from freezing. The next morning, when no one was found frozen, a miracle was proclaimed and the Freedomites marched on.
The Mounties had been tracking the progress of the march. The Freedomites were left alone while on the Doukhobor lands but as they approached Yorkton, the marchers were stopped. A crowd of about a hundred people swarmed out of Yorkton and forcibly clothed the Freedomites. The Doukhobors who were used to the communal nudity of the steam baths were surprised by the prudish reaction of the townspeople, but it was something they did not forget.