Despite its small size and relative obscurity on the international
is a country that has had the unfortunate experience of being
located at the "crossroads of Europe." Along with its
Baltic neighbours, Latvia and Lithuania, Estonia is one of three
Baltic nations that sit on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea in
northern Europe. Estonia is bordered by Latvia on the south and
Russia on the east. Sweden and Finland are the other "Neighbours" to
the west and north, respectively, but separated by the Baltic Sea.
as a result of geographical circumstance, Estonia and its Baltic
partners have had a very turbulent history that has been shaped
largely by its powerful neighbors. For the most part, rule in
Estonia had fallen under the control of Sweden and Germany until
the early 1700s when the Russian Empire wrestled control of the
small, but coveted nation away from the German landlords. Foreign
rule, had been harsh, particularly under the Russian Imperial
regime. Russian became the language in government institutions and schools, local authorities became increasingly under the control of the Russian centre, the importance of the Russian officialdom increased. Organizations in the national movement were closed down, censorship became stricter, conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church was encouraged in a further attempt to Russify the indigenous population.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Russian Empire began to feel the
strains of over expansion and corruption. In 1905, the stormy events of the Russian revolution caused an increase in social activism and encouraged the development of democracy in society.
The atmosphere throughout Europe at the turn of the century
were volatile, particularly in central Europe. Although Estonia
and the Baltic States remained under the control of the Russian
Empire until the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, secret societies
within the country had begun to lay the groundwork for
independence. Once the Russian Empire had been defeated by the Red
Army, Estonia enjoyed a period of relative independence for some
19 years prior to Soviet annexation at the outset of World War II.
Although the Estonian community in Alberta remains relatively
small, their arrival in Canada coincided with times of acute
political upheaval in their homeland -- the loosening of Russian
Imperial control in the 1890s, the proclamation of Independence on
February 24, 1918 and the annexation of all three Baltic States by the Soviet
Union in 1939.
Unlike many other groups from Europe that fled to Canada to
find renewed economic prosperity, Estonians came to find refuge
from harsh political realities. Those who came to Canada during
the first wave of migration (1890s-1914) left
Estonia to escape harsh Tsarist rule. Tsarist rule ended in 1917
and the second wave of migration (1920 - 1930) were primarily
economic refugees seeking improved prospects in Canada. Unfortunately, the second wave of Estonian
settlers arrived in Alberta at the onset of the Great Depression.
Upon arrival many found poor economic conditions and therefore
ended up leaving
the province to eke out a living elsewhere. Those who stayed in
the province tended to migrate towards communities such as Eckville and Stettler
in central Alberta where earlier Estonian immigrants had already
established communities. These were places where they could share in
familiar traditions, speak their native language and find a sense of
belonging amongst their neighbours from the old country.
At the onset of World War II, the Soviet Union moved quickly
to annex the Baltic States. The Baltic region had been coveted by
the Soviet regime from the time these strategically important
States had gained their collective freedom from the old Russian
Empire in 1920. World War II was devastating for the Baltic States
as they served as the battleground for numerous battles between
their rivals, Germany and the Soviet Union. As a result, may of
the Estonians residing in Canada at the time enlisted in the Canadian
The third wave of immigration by Estonians to Alberta came at
the end of World War II. The chaos and upheaval at the end
of the war allowed for many to escape Soviet occupied Estonia.
Many of those who fled were considered the elite or intelligentsia
of Estonia who had suffered greatly under the wartime occupation
of Estonia by the Soviet
Regime -- doctors, lawyers,
teachers and architects, who left everything they knew behind in
Estonia only to find work as farmhands or laborers in their new
homeland. Working as labourers until their contracts expired, these Estonian
immigrants usually relocated to larger urban areas to find work that
suited theirs skills and training. It was also these groups
that helped establish Estonian cultural organizations in Alberta,
thereby stimulating language retention and maintenance of cultural
identity. Although these groups have
declined in activity, Estonian Albertans continue to be an active
part of Alberta's cultural mosaic.
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.