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Edmonton Estonian Society

Formative meeting of the Edmonton Estonian Society  in 1949. Chairman Robert Kreem is seated on the far right. On 24 February 1949, members of Edmonton's Estonian community gathered at Robert and Mai Kreem's residence to celebrate Estonian Independence day. The date, 24 February 1918, marks the anniversary of Estonia's independence from the Soviet Union at the end of World War I. Thus, in 1949, when Estonians gathered in celebration of their independence, Estonian songs, dances, and reminiscent conversations brought vivid memories of their homeland and greater appreciation for their new home, Edmonton. The following year, Independence Day was held at the much larger Social Credit Hall where the program not only consisted of music and dance but important speeches as well.

It was here that the idea of creating an organization was born. Such an organization would allow active members of Edmonton's Estonian community to coordinate future Estonian activities, preserve Estonia's history, and promote its customs and traditions. St. John Lutheran Church hosted the first general meeting on 4 December 1949. Those present were appointed to committee positions and discussed possible future activities. Precisely one year later, in 1950, participants celebrated Estonian Independence Day with speeches, music, and art exhibits. The following year's celebration was slightly improved and featured Estonian folk dancers and a joint gala comprised of members from Edmonton's Latvian and Lithuanian communities. Each Independence Day celebration would begin with the Canadian national anthem and conclude with the Estonian national anthem.

By 1975, the EES had 48 members. Jaanipäev was held at Lydia Pal's cottage at sandy Lake in 1977 and 1978. The 60 th anniversary of Estonian Independence was a tremendous celebration featuring an 8-member choir conducted by Eva Weir. In 1978, several members of the society participated in Edmonton Heritage Days with the assistance of a folk dance group from Toronto. Society activities blossomed in the late 1970s and early 1980s culminating with the publication of the newsletter Pajataja.

Maintaining close ties with other successful Alberta-based Estonian societies was important. Edmonton had a particularly close relationship with the Medicine Valley Estonian Society. As the years progressed, the Edmonton Estonian Society (EES) found a comfortable groove, maintaining a consistent annual schedule of celebrations and social functions. The EES remained active over the decades with membership peaking at the time of Estonian independence from the former USSR in 1991. Activities included the hosting of Estonian athletes participating in various international sports, publishing the newsletter Ajakaja, and hosting special events.

Throughout its years of existence, the Edmonton Estonian Society was organized by a small but dedicated group of individuals who include A.E. Pilt, Feliks Lasberg, Walter Reili, Ilmar Pals, Nurmi Simm, Siim Ruusauk and Ludmilla Kivi.

The declaration of Estonian Independence in 1991 led to a renewal of interest in all things Estonian. Eda McClung was instrumental in launching a new wave of activity featuring annual celebrations. Her term as EES President was followed by others during the 1990s including Viivi Piil, Jan Urke, Toomas Pääsuke and Dave Kiil. 1999 was a particularly busy year for the EES, highlighted by the society's 50 th anniversary and a centennial celebration at historic Linda Hall near Stettler, Alberta. The following year, a group of EES members travelled to Linda Hall to welcome Estonian President Lennart Meri and his family to Alberta. In 2001, the EES hosted the Estonian National Track and Field team, including Olympic champion Erkki Nool.

Younger generations were encouraged to participate in Estonian activities. In 2004, there was an effort to combine all of Alberta's Estonian societies into a unified, coherent network. Within a year, the Edmonton Estonian Society closed its doors, making way for the newly formed Alberta Estonian Heritage Society .

Edmonton Estonian Society Presidents:

Robert Kreem: 1949-151
Andreas Pilt: 1951-1954, 1956, 1958, and 1973
Feliks Lasberg: 1955 and 1957
Nurmi Simm: 1978
Siim Ruusauk: 1979-1982
Nurmi Simm: 1985-1987
Eda McClung: 1988 and 1991
Rita Viivi Piil and Jan Urke: 1992 and 1993
Toomas Pääsuke: 1994-1998
Dave Kiil: 1999-2005

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