They came through the pouring rain, played traditional outdoors games between showers, feasted indoors on very tender rotisserie pork roast, reaffirmed their Estonian heritage and impressed the guest politicians. “They” were the descendants of Estonian pioneers and more recent immigrants who gathered on Saturday June 16, 2007 at a countryside community centre, nestled in between farms a short distance from Gull Lake in central Alberta. They numbered about 200, counting lots of kids. A heartwarming crowd!
During opening ceremonies, newly elected Alberta Estonian Heritage Society (AEHS) president Bob Kingsep reviewed the reasons why the society exists and why third, fourth, fifth, sixth generation descendants of Estonians are retaining some of their inherited traditions and visiting the land of their forefathers. We were treated to a rousing rendition of “O Canada” by trio Evelyn Shursen, Roy Klaus, and Letty Wyzykoski, accompanied on the piano by Helve Sastok. A reader’s theatre production about one pioneer family, the Erdmans, told the story of determination (a euphemism for Estonian stubbornness??) and resourcefulness that enabled the immigrants of over 100 years ago to not only survive but to thrive in very difficult conditions in Canada. The play was written by Lillian Munz and featured her cousin Barbara Gullickson in the role of “Mari”, with sister Martha Munz Gue as Commentator. All three are descendants of Crimea (Ukraine), South Dakota (USA) and Barons (Alberta) pioneers Jakob and Mari Erdman. Dave Kiil played a convincing Jakob despite not being a member of the 150-strong Erdman clan.
The AEHS paid homage to a fifth generation descendant of Canadian Estonian pioneers, Mellisa Hollingsworth-Richards, who won the 2006 World Cup overall championship and Olympic bronze medal in the winter sport of Skeleton. As Mellisa was unable to attend because of commitments to her sponsors, the gifts were accepted by her aunt Jean Maki on her behalf. Jean read out a gracious note of acceptance written by Mellisa.
Each of the three local guest politicians turned out to have some previous Estonian contact, a tribute to the gentle influence Estonians have had in the regions around Lincoln Hall, where the Jaanipäev event was held. Red Deer city mayor Morris Flewwelling, regional MLA Ray Prins and Lacombe County Reeve Terry Engen all had words of praise and encouragement for this ethnic group to maintain their traditions, as they are an important part of the fabric of Canadian citizenship and make a worthwhile contribution locally.
Otto Nicklum directed the “Queen of 4:00 AM” contest, won by Kathy Tipman who best aimed the rolling pin at a stuffed figure. Ron Hennel was in charge of the log-sawing and nail pounding contests. Winners were: men’s log sawing - Bob Tipman and Bob Kingsep (they claim no collusion or influence peddling despite being the former and current AEHS presidents), women’s log sawing – Lisa Kiil and Diana Kiil, men’s nail pounding - Les Peters and women’s nail pounding - Letty Wyzykoski. All children participating in races and other special games received fun prizes kindly provided by Lori Sparrow. Leila Stanich organized these games, assisted by June and Bob Ekelund. As a brief aside, sometimes the Estonian-related memories are based on the simplest situations: June Kerbes-Ekelund mentioned at Jaanipäev that one of her favourite memories is of her grandmother singing Estonian songs while picking potatoes on their farm. She also recalls reading that those Estonians who were deported to Russia also did a lot of singing, maintaining that if they could not sing, they felt they would have perished.
Tables at Lincoln Hall displayed a range of charming Estonian and local area-related lottery prizes which were awarded during the evening. The major prize, a deluxe grand occasion weekend at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton, was won by Peeter and Helgi Leesment. All prizes were donated and are gratefully acknowledged.
The Alberta Estonian Heritage Society must have burned out many internet wires over the previous few months with intense discussion establishing the design of its pin and logo. The end result is a classy pin featuring an “A” for “Alberta” with blue, black and white rectangles superimposed. These were a popular sales item at Jaanipäev, as were new memberships to the Society. Another outstanding issue of AjaKaja (edited by Dave Kiil and Eda McClung), the organization’s twice-yearly publication, was also available at the various tables ably manned by Lori Sparrow, Anne Cowick, Annette Kingsep, Toomas Pääsuke and Eda McClung.
In addition to the catered pork, potatoes, beans and salad, some guests had responded to a voluntary call for traditional bread and sauerkraut. As a result, several kinds of wonderful Estonian rye bread were available alongside the homemade sauerkraut with barley. Prior to the meal, lay minister Barbara Gullickson said a thoughtful and meaningful grace with a heritage and family roots theme.
Being a musical nation, the descendants of Estonian pioneers have maintained that skill, and so the local Garry Raabis band provided evening musical entertainment and dance music.
Much of these and other activities were filmed by Polar Bear Entertainment, who have the contract to produce a half-hour video telling the story of early Estonian pioneers in the Alberta region. The firm showed a sneak preview of the part already completed, a segment dealing with the Kingsep family trip to Võru, Estonia in May of this year, where they were reunited with other members of their family for the first time in 108 years. Everyone was impressed. All were wiping tears of joy at the end. This production is a tribute to the coordination provided by Dave Kiil and all those who have submitted images and stories. We are all looking forward to the completion of the video which will début at the Los Angeles West Coast Estonian Festival this August (www.lep2007.com).
A volunteer clean-up crew had the job done in one hour next morning, including guests from Ontario. Thanks are due to Eda McClung, her team, the AEHS board and other volunteers for another well run AEHS Jaanipäev event!
Jaanipäev 2007 in Alberta