Sunday, 10 June 2018 06:47

Alberta Estonian Heritage Society mid-summer celebration

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The Alberta Estonian Heritage Society will be gathering people from all over Alberta and beyond at the June 23 "Jaanipaev" Celebration. (St John's Day Celebration).


ll people with roots in both Alberta and Estonia are cordially invited to the Celebration. 'Everyone is welcome' to the celebration whether they have Esto roots or not, provided they buy a ticket by mid-June.
The June 23  event is  a Centenary Celebration of the first Independence of Estonia. In 1918, after WWI, Estonia gained its first  independence, which lasted until  the Second World War. Independence was regained  in 1991, with the fall of the iron curtain. No blood was lost during that most recent independence push. Instead, the struggle was dubbed the "Singing Revolution".  Today Estonia is a determined member of the European Union.
There is a Medicine Hat connection to the early Estonian settlers in Alberta and Saskatchewan. If you have been to the Esplanade recently and viewed the MH Archives display of weather incidents, you will  have seen a Mr. Sillak and his family in a boat outside their house  during a flood in the River Flats in Medicine Hat.  
Rev. Sillak was an Estonian who in the late 1800s went to University in USA to become a Lutheran Pastor.
He translated the American Lutheran liturgy into Estonian and received a Masters degree for his efforts. He was posted in northern USA and Southern Canada for ministry among Estonians, Latvians, and Finns. He could speak five languages.
His home and family were in Medicine Hat and he traveled to all the locations where Estonians and Latvians and Finns settled.
He would stay a few days at a local farmhouse to conduct the baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and funerals in the community. Much of his travel was on horseback. Sometimes he (and his horse??) took the train for part of the distance. In the first decade of the 1900s there was quite a number of young adult Estonians living in Medicine Hat. They dispersed as they found work or homesteads "away".  Sillak Crescent in Southridge is named for him.
The first pioneers from Estonia came to Canada in 1899 and settled in the Sylvan Lake area.They came mostly from the southern Estonian region of Voru. By 1902 they moved 25K northwest to Medicine Valley. There they worked with the community to build the Estonian School; they built an Estonian Hall (1909); and they established the Gilby Kalmu Cemetery which is still in use as a community cemetery.
A second group of Estonian settlers came in 1903 and took up homesteads in Central Alberta near Stettler area and Big Valley.
By 1911, these settlers built Linda Hall as a meeting place for them to hold agricultural meetings as well as enjoy family/social gatherings.
A third group of Estonian pioneers homesteaded in 1904 on land near what was later to become the Barons area. Many of the first Estonian settlers in the Barons area came via the Crimea where they were born. Their parents had been children in a 3-month trek from Estonia to the Crimea to farm the vacant farmlands in 1861 after the Crimean War.
There was a second wave of Estonian immigration in Alberta and that was after the second world war.  Estonians who escaped by boat to Sweden, or managed to get out to the south and find a refugee camp in Germany, applied to relatives in Canada for sponsorship.  Many of the homesteaders who arrived in the early 1900s sponsored the refugees in the 1950s, once Canadian laws were adjusted to allow such immigration.  Sponsoring a refugee meant providing food and housing and work for at least one year (possibly two).  The Canadian government working with various companies also sponsored refugees with 1-year work contracts. Many of the small Alberta schools became "English immersion schools" before the term was invented.
 And now there is a third wave of Estonian immigration. That is of young Estonians many of whom grew up in free Estonia after 1991. There is representation on the board of the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society from all three waves of immigrants.
So, on the weekend of the longest day, Albertans of Estonian descent and their friends will be gathering at Linda Hall, south of Stettler.  
Ethnic circle dancing will be led by two dancers coming  all the way from Estonia.
Singing is an integral part of the Estonian identity.  So a choir will perform familiar sing-along songs, with the hope that the crowd will join in the singing.
Two professional Alberta artists with Estonian heritage will display their work, and there will also be an area to display the wonderful artwork of others with Alberta and Estonian roots.
Pioneer games and crafts and a bouncy castle,  are planned for the young and young at heart.  
Ethnic food will be featured along with a festive pig roast.
The Midsummer Estonian Festival – Jaanipaev 2018 and 100th Anniversary of Estonia's first independence will be held on Sat, 23 June 2018  11 a.m. – 7 p.m. at  Linda Hall, near Stettler, Alberta.
For more information about this event, call Martha at 403-526-2226, and/or go the website      
To register for the event go to

Read 510 times Last modified on Thursday, 07 June 2018 09:53

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