J.W. (Vanya) Perverseff was born on May 1, 1883 in the village of Haralofka in the Kars region of southern Russia. He was one of three children born to a hardworking, loving peasant family. They were part of a devout, communal farming group known as Doukhobors. Doukhobors were pacifists who refused to join the Czar's military and rejected the authority and corruption of the Russian Orthodox Church. For this, many Doukhobors were forced from their land, arrested and tortured, including members of Vanya's family.
When Canada accepted the immigration of 7,400 Doukhobors to settle the prairies at the end of the 19th century, Vanya left Russia to begin a new life in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan.
Although Doukhobors were mostly illiterate, Vanya pursued a life-long love of learning and helped to establish the first school for Doukhobor children in his district.
Vanya passed on his love of learning to his children and his eldest son later became one of the first Doukhobor medical doctors to graduate in Canada.