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Calgary

Calgary Estonian Society  entered a float in Alberta\'s  Golden Jubilee Parade, 1955. In Calgary, a strong desire to preserve and promote Estonian culture has remained despite the presence of only a small Estonian representation. The official establishment of the Calgary Estonian Society on 17 June 1950 was successful in unifying Calgary's Estonian population which was scattered across the city. Its first president was Nikolai Rouk.

The activities of Calgary's Estonian Society revolved around small weekly events and large annual celebrations blended with private social functions. During the 1950s, Estonian pioneers gathered on a weekly basis at the downtown YWCA. Gradually, Second World War immigrants who arrived in Canada via Scandinavia and Germany joined the organization. The most popular annual events were the commemoration and celebration of Independence Day, occurring every 24 February; Jaanipäev, the festive midsummer solstice gala; and Christmas concerts and church services. Celebrations typically included speeches, songs, dance and food.

Estonians also participated in local multicultural fairs showcasing Estonian cuisine, crafts, and costumes. It was here that Calgary's Estonian community introduced participants to homemade cranberry juice (years before the beverage found its way into grocery stores). During the 1950s and 1960s, there were approximately 200 people of Estonian ancestry living in Calgary. Calgary's Estonian Society contributed a float to the famous Stampede parade in 1955 and 1973. Otto Laaman was the president of the society from 1953 until his retirement in 1978; Peter Leesment was his elected successor.

Three young Calgarians show off their colorful Estonian folk costumes during a Christmas Celebration in 1988. L to R: Erika Kivik, Krista Leesment, Milvi Tiislar During the late 1980s and early 1990s, an Estonian language school functioned on a bi-weekly basis: Calgary's Estonian population was large enough to justify having its children learn about Estonian culture and speak the language in a formal setting. The late 1980s and early 1990s (Estonia regained independence from Russia in 1991) were joyous and featured numerous activities. An Estonian basketball team played two friendly exhibition games at the Calgary Saddledome. The rock band Ultima Thule played a concert as the warm-up band for the Canadian band "64-40". As well, a large boys choir accompanied by a chamber orchestra entertained a crowd of classical music and choir enthusiasts. In October of 1991, members of Calgary's Estonian community organized a joint celebration with members of the Latvian and Lithuanian community honouring the Baltic states' regaining their independence earlier in the year. On another day that autumn, an airplane flew overhead displaying a banner that read "The Baltics are free. Thank you Canada." The regained independence was an especially important event because large segments of the Calgary Estonian Society were political refugees who had escaped from Estonia during Soviet occupation in the Second World War.

The association's status during the 1990s became somewhat undefined and even dormant for numerous years as there were difficulties in establishing an executive committee. However, despite this organizational setback, individual members of Calgary's Estonian community spontaneously organized various events. These included the visit of then president of Estonia, Lennart Meri, to Calgary and elsewhere in Alberta in the year 2000.

A free, independent Estonia transformed the relationship between Estonians living in Canada and Estonia itself. Suddenly, one could visit relatives abroad, compile historical and genealogical research, and establish new contacts. Consequently, these possibilities drastically altered the goals of the Calgary Estonian Society. In 2006, the organization disbanded as the recently formed Alberta Estonian Heritage Society embraced former members of all Alberta Estonian organizations, setting new goals reflecting changed circumstances.

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