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Edmonton Estonian Society

On February 24th, 1949, Estonians and non-Estonian friends came together to celebrate Estonian Independence Day in Edmonton. They visited, and enjoyed music in their Estonian language and culture. From this gathering the idea came to form an organization and work together towards Estonian Independence, and to celebrate historical and national dates and heritage, and finally, to promote and enjoy Estonian culture and language. The first meeting was held December 4th, 1949 in the social room of a church. Since that time, Christmas services, summer festivals, exhibits of arts and crafts and music recitals have been organized by the Edmonton Estonian Society (EES).
 
The EES celebrated its 50th year of continuous operation in 1999. During the first four decades of its existence the focus of the Society was mainly to promote Estonian independence from Soviet occupation and to organize social and cultural events for the small Estonian community of mostly WWII immigrants in the Edmonton area. 

Today, in the years following the declaration of Estonian independence in 1991, the EES is still supported by the community and primarily involved with promoting interest in and awareness of Estonian Albertan's rich culture and customs. The Society also helps to coordinate visits by Estonian politicians, diplomats, athletes and artists to Alberta. The Society sponsors special events and celebrations of interest to Alberta's Estonian community, which has grown to over 1,500 multi-generation descendants of the first Estonian settlers and post-WWII immigrants and their offspring.

In 1999, the Edmonton Estonian Society organized a three-day, Alberta-wide Estonian-Canadian Centennial Celebration. The Centennial marked the arrival of the first Estonians to settle in Alberta and Canada in 1899, namely the districts around Sylvan Lake, Gilby, Stettler and Barons. Now, many years later, third, fourth and fifth generation descendants are involved in remembering and celebrating the Estonian Albertans who came before them. The event, held in historic Linda Hall near Stettler, was the largest-ever gathering of Alberta's Estonian community and attracted over 500 celebrants from across Canada.

In 2000, the Estonian community hosted the President of the Republic of Estonia, Lennart Meri. The President, an avid historian, expressed keen interest in the history and activities of Alberta's Estonian community.

Another major event was held in 2001 near Gilby during the midsummer solstice. The event celebrated the lives and contributions of Estonian pioneers in that area.

In 2001 and 2002 the community hosted welcoming receptions for the Estonian delegations attending the World Athletic Championships and the World University Wrestling Championships in Edmonton. The Charge d' Affairs of the Estonian Embassy in Ottawa, Mr. Sulev Roostar, visited Alberta in March 2002 and helped us celebrate Estonian Independence Day.

The Society issues a bi-annual newsletter, the Ajakaja. The newsletter informs members and other Estonian organizations of current activities, and of topics of general interest. The newsletter maintains a bilingual format, although many articles are in English to serve a readership of descendants who speak only English and others who have entered mixed marriages with English-speaking spouses. The Society draws its membership from post-WWII immigrants and the descendants of the Estonian pioneers who settled in central Alberta. The membership list of some 80 individuals and families includes people primarily from the Edmonton area, but communities such as Calgary, Stettler, Red Deer, Gilby and, and Lethbridge, to name a few, are also represented. The Society can be contacted by e-mail at: edmontonestonians@yahoo.ca

Reprinted with permission from the Edmonton Estonian Society.
 
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