What do you remember? Your help is needed
On the 18th of November 1948, 347 people undertook a dangerous journey from Sweden to Canada in a British minesweeper, the SS Walnut, which was originally designed to sleep 18 men. They survived several winter storms and seasickness during this 3-week passage, which finally brought them to Pier 21, in Halifax, on December 13th. This voyage is part of a much larger movement, referred to by Estonian historians as “the little Viking boats.” In all, 46 vessels left Sweden with thousands of Estonians aboard (Aun 1985).
Lynda Männik, a 3rd year PhD. student with the Social Anthropology Department at York University is currently in the process of interviewing passengers of the SS Walnut, of which her father was one. Her study is aimed at examining connections between photography, memory and archived sources. Information from Sweden, Germany, Estonia and Canada, including media reports and government documents will provide contextual insights. Added to that will be the results of oral interviews with those who undertook this voyage, which will be accompanied by photographs, primarily taken by Joann Saarniit, Max Kalm and Manivald Sein.
The first set of interviews will focus on: a) impressions of Canada prior to leaving Sweden, b) experiences on the voyage, c) time spent in Halifax and d) current reflections on experiences after leaving Halifax. Männik is also hoping to complete a second set of interviews, where participants will be shown two short videos, both produced by the Pier 21 Museum about the Walnut. A list of questions will focus on past visits to the Pier 21 Museum, reflections on the video and general perspectives of the Pier 21 displays concerning migration to Canada during this period.
One of the primary reasons Männik has undertaken this project is that following WWII over 50,000 Estonian refugees migrated to North America. However, their histories have received little attention in the mainstream, Canadian academic community. Since the early 1990s life story research has become very popular in Estonia and a concerted effort has been made towards filling in historical gaps left by years of Soviet occupation.
She has been following the literature on this trend, which also calls for more research concerning migrations that took place after 1944 and feels that this project will add substantially to recognizing the determination and concerted agency of many Estonians at this time. Männik is also interested in the links between lived experience and the official representations of these experiences that take place in museums, the media and government records.
To date she has finished a great deal of the background research for this project and is in the process of interviewing passengers of the Walnut at Estonian House, Tartu College and also in their homes. If you are interested in becoming part of this project or know someone who might be interested in being interviewed please call: Lynda Männik at (705) 760-9289. She can also be reached via email at or by mail: 277 Armour Rd., Peterborough, Ontario, K9H 1Y5. Copies of photographic material, newspaper clippings or any autobiographical material pertaining to this project would be also be of great value.
York University PhD Thesis about the voyage of the Walnut (1)