Eesti Elu
Estonian heritage display at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (1)
Eestlased Kanadas 19 Apr 2012 Helgi LeesmentEesti Elu
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The Provincial Archives of Alberta are giving the Estonian community royal treatment. Currently, and continuing until June 1, 2012, it is housing an exhibition of Alberta Estonian heritage in its main foyer.

The Archives staff graciously hosted an official opening event on April 4, 2012, attended by approximately 30 people. Leslie Latta-Guthrie, Executive Director and Provincial Archivist, Province of Alberta, as the opening speaker, welcomed the exhibit and that day’s visitors with an account of the Archives’ role in the production, inviting everyone to stay for coffee, tea and sweets after the ceremony. She also introduced several of the staff members involved in the archives and exhibit project. Leslie Latta-Guthrie was followed by Alberta Estonian Heritage Society president Bob Kingsep who noted that many historical factors, some negative, had eventually resulted in the positive stories of successful Estonian settlers and their descendants in Alberta. He also read out the official congratulations from Riho Kruuv, Chargé d’Affaires, on behalf of the government of Estonia.

The exhibit was created as a joint project between the Provincial Archives of Alberta staff and members of the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society (AEHS). Its purpose is best indicated by part of the text on one of the display panels:

“The word ‘heritage’ is central to the aims and goals of the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society. In 2006, the Society initiated a project to research, produce and communicate the history and legacy of Alberta’s Estonian community. A documentary DVD, a richly illustrated heritage book, a comprehensive online archive and an Estonian Collection at the Provincial Archives of Alberta in Edmonton have been completed. This historical record is now available in digital and written form, preserving the legacy of six generations of Alberta’s Estonians.”

The display at the Archives consists of six large wall panels, two glass display cases of ethnic artifacts and 9 photos. All items were selected, prepared and designed by AEHS and assembled for the display by Archives staff.

The first panel introduces the socio-economic conditions of Estonians during the 19th Century. The next ones tell the story of early arrivals to the area now called Alberta (it was part of North West Territories until 1905) as pioneers acquiring their own homestead land in an effort to seek a better life than they experienced in Estonia, Crimea and Nurmekunde in Russia. The display then proceeds to a brief overview of settlers’ daily lives and cultural heritage activities. The three centennials, celebrated in Alberta respectively in 1999, 2001 and 2004, are the topic of the fifth panel. The last panel is titled “Time Marches On” and mentions later immigrants, with a focus on recent AEHS publications: the half-hour DVD documentary Alberta’s Estonians, the book Freedom, Land, & Legacy: Alberta’s Estonians 1899-2009, the online website (, select ‘Heritage’, then click on the image titled ‘Alberta’s Estonian Heritage’), the archival collection now located at the Provincial Archives site and the twice yearly issued magazine AjaKaja.

The two glass cases display Estonian cultural artifacts: a knitted winter hat in a style typically worn by Estonian girls and women up to approximately 50 years ago, other knitted items such as gloves & socks, a doll in Mustjala regional folk costume, a hand-woven belt, jewellery, wood handicrafts and various books including an 1825 Bible and a publication detailing the lives of a 150 member Estonian clan whose forefathers immigrated to southern Alberta in 1904.

The exhibit further includes a supply of a post-card sized handouts describing the AEHS and the products of the Heritage Project, courtesy of funding from the Estonian Credit (Toronto) Union. The panels are intended as a travelling exhibit and will be available to interested groups.

How did this exhibit come about?

Thousands of images, artifacts & documents were collected over the span of five years from 2006 to 2011 by hard-working volunteers of the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society under the direction Ain Dave Kiil. He continuously and successfully applied for funding from the Alberta, Canadian and Estonian governments plus the Estonian Foundation of Canada. The AEHS is grateful for the positive responses from all of the above mentioned sources. Dave’s main assistant has been Eda McClung with great support from the AEHS executive and many other members.

Because much written material, thousands of photographs, documents and artifacts had been collected for a DVD presentation, it was a logical progression to make use of them for another purpose: namely a heritage website. Funding grants permitted the AEHS once again to hire professionals to handle the editing and technical aspects for high quality results. A few errors occasionally crept in as the hires were not familiar with Estonian language, history, geography or culture. Considerable volunteer time was spent providing them with sufficient background information. Additions, revisions and edits will be ongoing.

Meanwhile, AEHS leaders were working smoothly as a team under the able guidance of president Bob Kingsep. When the idea of producing a book arose, the board was in complete agreement that would be another worthwhile project. Dave Kiil and Eda McClung set to work commanding articles, gathering suitable previously written works, arranging translations, selecting illustrations and doing preliminary editing. Funding from subsequent grant applications once again permitted the hiring of professionals to design and edit the book, with excellent results.

Having created three products depicting the lives of Estonians and descendants of Estonians in Alberta, the next question that arose for the AEHS was what to do with the gathered collection. No one wanted to risk storing the artifacts and images in their homes. An archive of some kind was needed. With this thought, Dave Kiil approached Tom Anderson, Team Lead of Private Records Collections Management at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, and received an interested response. Tom Anderson evaluated the gathered materials and declared them all acceptable for incorporation into the ’Estonian Collection’ of the Provincial Archives. Considerable dialogue ensued regarding the costs, appropriate levels of indexing and online access to the materials. Once again, funding from grants enabled accelerated processing of the materials, with about half yet to be tackled. AEHS own funds will be used for this final thrust this spring.

In the fall of 2011, searching for a suitable way to conclude this massive 5-year undertaking, Eda McClung, Dave Kiil, Tom Anderson and recently retired Irene Jendzowski, Director responsible for exhibits, met in different combinations to discuss and develop the AEHS proposal for an exhibit. Such a project and the special collection are possible in Alberta because its archives institution has a more inclusive collection policy than most other provincial archives.

Further funding was needed to cover the special expenses involved in producing a worthy exhibition. Dave to the rescue with another grant application! To no one’s surprise, it too was approved. Several Provincial Archives staff became involved with the planning and execution of the display. The AEHS is highly appreciative of their dedication, skills, enthusiasm and professionalism in dealing with the Estonian heritage exhibit as well as with the ‘Estonian Collection’.

The Estonian heritage exhibit at the Provincial Archives of Alberta is like the final period at the end of a long story. Over those last five years the attitude of the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society developed from “Let’s collect” to “Let’s educate a broader audience”. It has fulfilled both mandates magnificently.

Provincial Archives of Alberta
8555 Roper Road (southeast corner of 51st Avenue and 86th Street)
Edmonton, Alberta T6E 5W1

Telephone 780-427-1750

Opening hours
Monday - Saturday, 9 am - 4:30 pm,
Wednesday 4:30 pm - 9 pm (limited service)
Closed to the public on Sunday, Monday and holidays

Estonian Exhibit will be on display until June 1, 2012
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