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Kotkas Family

Helena and Jaan Kotkas family in 1915. Standing: Johannes and Maria. Sitting in front: Helena, Rudy, Jaan, Theresa (sitting on Jaan’s lap) and Louise. The Kotkas family emigrated from Crimea in 1905. During the trip, Jaan and his wife Emilia accompanied their two small children Marie and John. Upon their arrival to Lethbridge, their relative Gus Erdman greeted them with a horse and buggy to transport them to their designated homestead near Barons. They lived in small tents until their sod house was complete. Tragically, Emilia died soon after settling in southern Alberta.

In 1907 Jaan married Helena Erdman and together they had three children: Rudolph (Rudy), Louise and Theresa. Helena and Jaan were excellent singers and often sang with the Erdman's. In fact, sing-a-alongs were an integral part of any Estonian social gathering. Helena was kind, good natured and loved food.

The sod house, consisting of a kitchen, a living room and two bedrooms, was plastered together with a mixture of clay, manure and lime. Helena and Jaan lived here for the remainder of their lives and participated in numerous Estonian community events. Rudy and Louise were born in the house.

In the first two decades of the 20th century, it was estimated that there were 77 Estonians residing in the area surrounding Barons. The Kotkas children attended nearby Wheatland Centre School where they and other newly arriving immigrants learned English. School also provided the Kotkas children an opportunity to participate in recreational activities such as baseball and basketball.

Rudy and Jean Kotkas with their two children, Ken and Loreen, pose for a family photo, 1936. Jaan successfully cultivated the land and expanded his property in 1912. Three years later, he had two square miles of farmland. With wheat prices still competitive, Jaan was able to purchase a threshing machine, water tanks, a wagon and a Model T Ford.

In 1929 Rudy married Jean Cross from Calgary. They farmed near Barons and raised three children: Eleanor, Kenneth, and Perry. With farming technology improving rapidly, Jaan and Rudy purchased tractors, a considerable time- and labour-saving device.

Jaan died in 1941 in Barons at the age of 70. Helena died the following year at the age of 65. Rudy spent his later years in Vulcan, Alberta where he worked as the county's new assessor and the town's mayor. During their last years together, Rudy and Jean moved to Lethbridge in order to be closer to their cottage at Waterton Lakes. Embodiments of the Estonian tradition of song and dance, Rudy and Jean had a passion for singing and were sure to pass the tradition along to their children.

Rudy and his siblings all went different directions in their lives. His oldest brother, Jack, moved to Raymond, Alberta to work in the sugar beet industry. Marie married John Sepp, and they moved to Washington State. Louise married Eric Row in 1936 and remained in Barons most of her life. Theresa, a nurse, was married and later moved to California.

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