News from Alberta
Archived Articles 28 May 2008 Helgi LeesmentEWR
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Calgary Estonians celebrate Estonia’s 90th birthday

On Sunday morning, February 24, 2008, twenty-nine Calgarians gathered beside the huge fireplace at Nick’s Restaurant to commemorate the 90th anniversary of Estonia and to enjoy a pleasant brunch. Helgi Leesment welcomed all to the informal event. Bob Kingsep, president of the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society and grandson of the first known Estonian pioneer in Canada (arrived in 1899), spoke on the topic appreciating the point of view of someone who is of Estonian heritage but has not suffered political persecution, political terrorism nor the need to suddenly leave one’s life behind and venture reluctantly into the unknown, as had been the case with many of those present. Peeter Leesment presented the Estonian language speech honouring this special anniversary.

Facing the Estonian and Canadian flags on either side of the fireplace, the entire group sang the national anthem of Canada. Written lyrics were provided in both languages, so that people not familiar with the Estonian language joined in the singing of the Estonian anthem. The event was also a successful social occasion, resulting in many people exchanging contact information upon their departure after the brunch.

Alberta’s Estonian Heritage — new website!

A new Estonian website is available on the internet at . It focuses on Alberta Estonian history and is part of the AlbertaSource / Alberta Online Encyclopedia complex — an online learning resource - sitting among the websites of Alberta Italians, First Nations people, University of Alberta centennial, the Francophone community, etc. Written in a straightforward, simple style, this website is intended for use by school children as well as adults. Students looking for Estonian-related topics for school assignments may wish to look at the stories, brief biographies, accounts and photos offered. People looking to complete blanks in their family genealogy or those wanting to reconnect with long lost relatives may also find helpful information at this website. All of the information and photos are organized under the headings: History, People, Communities, Cultural Life, and Multimedia Resources (such as photos and video clips). The Search feature enables the finding of specific names and topics. The SiteMap is an excellent detailed guide to the contents.

Created in partnership with, part of Heritage Community Foundation, and major input from the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society (AEHS), the site was ceremoniously launched on May 3, 2008 at the Snell Auditorium of the Public Library in Red Deer, generously hosted by the Heritage Community Foundation. A preliminary version of Alberta’s Estonian Heritage website has been available since the Fall of 2007; however it has been substantially expanded and updated since then. The site was made possible by grants from Alberta’s Community Initiatives Program and Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program.

The session was graced by a small display of Estonian national costumes, selected by Valerie Miller, Collections Coordinator of the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery, and brought to the launch location by Melanie Berndt who ably guarded the heritage items, providing background information as asked. The girl’s outfit had been commissioned from Toronto by Dr. Rita Matiisen and the Museum in the 1980’s. The other items are treasures from area Estonian families.

At the May 3 official launch of the Alberta’s Estonian Heritage Website, Master of Ceremonies Dr. Adriana Davies, editor-in-chief of, introduced Bob Kingsep, president of the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society. Both Dr. Davies and Bob Kingsep spoke of the importance of the recognition of the Estonian community within Alberta’s ethnic groups and especially of the value of family histories.

Among the honoured guests invited by Dr. Adriana Davies were Cal Dallas – MLA for Red Deer South; Sonia Bitar – Citizenship Judge for Northern Alberta and speakers Mary Ann Jablonski – Minister of Seniors and Community Supports, Red Deer North; Blaine Calkins – Member of Parliament – Ponoka-Wetaskiwin and Morris Flewwelling, CM, Mayor of Red Deer Chair of Heritage Community Foundation. The speakers brought greetings from the Province of Alberta, the Government of Canada and the host city Red Deer.

As a thank you to the honoured guests, Bob Kingsep presented each one with a copy of the Alberta’s Estonians DVD. The National Estonian Foundation of Canada (Eesti Sihtkapital Kanadas), with partial funding from the Community Initiatives Program, funded this half-hour documentary, which was released last year.

Dave Kiil, director of historical projects for the AEHS, thanked the many people who gave of their time and family records in order to create this substantial Estonian heritage website. Despite Dave’s modesty, all present were well aware of the tremendous volunteer work done by him organizing and documenting mountains of submitted materials for the Heritage Community Foundation who in turn edited these and created the Estonian website. In recognition, AEHS president Bob Kingsep awarded Dave Kiil a framed certificate of thanks. Dave’s colleagues Eda McClung and Helgi Leesment also received similar framed citations detailing their particular contributions to the project.

The May 3rd launch event was made even more interesting by the concurrent demonstration of the website during the verbal presentations. Clifford Barnett, senior programmer of the Heritage Community Foundation, clicked on appropriate webpages illustrating families, individuals, places and other aspects as these were mentioned by the various speakers. The photos and stories showed on a large screen beside the podium, making for an interesting multi-tasking multi-media afternoon followed by a light lunch and opportunity to chat.

The news media was also present and interviews were held before and after the launch ceremony. The event was recorded in the Red Deer Advocate and briefly shown on television.


Alberta Estonian Heritage Society Annual General Meeting, 2008

Immediately following the multi-media launch of Alberta’s Estonian Heritage website on May 3, 2008 in Red Deer, the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society held its annual general meeting. President Bob Kingsep’s understated humorous style kept the meeting going at a speedy pace as the majority of the past board agreed to retain their positions and members heard the review of an intensely busy past year. Major funding had been obtained from three sources to result in a professionally produced half-hour documentary film and a quality historical website, thanks to financing applications skillfully submitted by Dave Kiil. Treasurer Toomas Pääsuke made sense of the complicated finances, duly audited by Enn and Pärja Tiislar. The AEHS responded to an invitation by the West Coast Estonian Days committee in Los Angeles with the debut of the documentary DVD Alberta’s Estonians and a readers’ theatre production highlighting the pioneering tales of an Alberta family. Both were well received by the Estonian crowd in California. The first two Board meetings under new president Bob Kingsep were held in Tallinn (May 7, 2007) and Los Angeles (August 10, 2007), finally reverting to Alberta in the Fall - tough on secretary Jüri Kraav who dutifully attended and recorded all. Future plans include a Jaanipäev celebration at Linda Hall in 2009, with the organizing committee already making arrangements.

To the sincere applause of AEHS members, David Kiil and Eda McClung were each awarded an AEHS “oscar” as a token of recognition for their outstanding volunteer work in coordinating the two historical projects: the well-acclaimed documentary DVD film and the newly launched major website featuring Alberta Estonians.

All members of the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society were thanked for their input of family photos and biographies for these two projects. Without that interest and effort, neither project would have come to be.

AEHS members are rightfully proud of their organization’s achievements in the brief three years since its inception.
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