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Johan and Lena Mottus

Johan Mottus was born in Voru, Estonia in 1861. His future wife, Lena, was born nearby four years later. Together they raised eight children. Three of their sons, Hugo, Alexander and Oscar, travelled with them to Canada in the 1900s. After an exhausting journey, they eventually settled on a farm north of Eckville.

The story of their immigration to Canada however, is particularly unique in that they did not choose the route typically taken by Estonian families settling in Alberta. The Mottus family left for Canada in 1916 to escape the imminent danger and peril of World War I. However, they did not cross the Atlantic Ocean, the route routinely taken by Estonian immigrants at that time. With German U-boats navigating the waters, this route was deemed far too dangerous. Instead the members of the Mottus family ventured in the opposite direction, through the vastness of Russia and Siberia and across the Pacific Ocean.

Arriving in Yokohama, Japan, they waited five days for a freighter to transport them across the ocean. They arrived in Seattle, Washington only to be interned for two days by US immigration officials. They travelled by boat to Vancouver where every member of the Mottus family contracted lice. A train carried them from Vancouver to Red Deer. This is where the two-month long journey finally ended. The Mottus' first request was for a traditional Estonian sauna. Johan purchased a quarter piece of land on the south shore of Wood Lake, Alberta. He died two years later. Lena passed away in 1930. They are buried in the Gilby Cemetery.

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