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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

1940-1990

Alexander Oro in the driver\'s seat on his farm tractor near Stettler, Alberta, 1950s Between 1946 and 1951 13,500 Estonian refugees arrived in Canada. Of this number, only 400 came to Alberta. This accounts for roughly 29 percent of the Estonian immigrant population, indeed a significantly disproportionate statistic. As mentioned previously, the larger urban centres were more attractive to Estonian immigrants relative to prairie settlements. Moreover, the Canadian Government preferred single, unskilled immigrants suitable for manual labour and other vacancies. As a result, families wanting to immigrate required sponsorship from a Canadian family. Alberta's Estonian community graciously sponsored some Estonian families, as did the Lutheran Church of Canada. By the post-World War II period, Estonian immigrants were generally well educated. They had acquired over the years a wealth of tangible work experience, complemented by an assortment of professional degrees and diplomas. Unfortunately, Estonian teachers, doctors and lawyers, among other professionals, could only claim refugee status if they were to work as farmhands. Most of these professionals did not have prior farmhand experience and were unfit to contribute to Alberta's agricultural economy. Others simply detested the work. After serving their one-year contract, many sought more suitable employment opportunities in the urban environment. Much of the work available in Alberta's larger centres was blue-collar employment, an obvious disappointment for educated and experienced Estonian professionals. Nonetheless, they accepted the challenge and worked hard to become established in their new communities.

Edmonton Estonian  Society\'s  Midsummer festival was celebrated at the Robertson family\'s home in Leduc, Alberta, 1990. In the post-WWII era, Alberta witnessed an unwavering increase in urbanization. By the late 1940s, Estonian organizations were established in Edmonton and, years later, in Calgary. According to a 1966 survey there were 87 Estonians in Edmonton while Calgary's Estonian population reached upwards of one hundred and twenty. A variety of events and social gatherings were planned in Alberta's two major cities although primary interests centered on celebrating Estonian Independence Day. The Red Deer Museum and Medicine Valley Estonian Society  presented an exhibition of the life and times  of Estonian pioneers in Alberta. The display was opened in 1984 and lasted for 15 years. Calgary's Estonian community would often frequent Estonian arts and crafts exhibits at local multicultural events celebrating Calgary's diverse ethnic community. In 1955, Calgary's Estonian community entered a float in the province's Golden Jubilee Parade. Members of the Estonian community, dressed entirely in traditional Estonian garments, waved to the crowds.

Calgary Estonians attending an Estonian Independence Day Concert, early 1950s Leaving the city to appreciate Alberta's diverse landscape was another popular activity. Weekend excursions to the Rockies or to other Alberta Provincial and National Parks were frequently scheduled. In Edmonton, organizing sporting events and other such leisure activities was popular among members of the Estonian community. Maintaining close contact with Estonia's Baltic neighbours, Latvia and Lithuania, was important in fostering a Baltic identity in Alberta's capital city. The Baltic Centennial Choir helped celebrate Canada\'s Centennial in Edmonton, 1967. Choir was directed by Mrs. Kivi is seated in the centre. By combining the three ethnic communities, events were much larger, showcasing a diverse agenda. For instance, for a few days in October 1967, Edmonton's Baltic Festival hosted a concert, an exhibition, a gala reception, and a banquet attended by several prominent government representatives.

Alberta's Estonian Heritage
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