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Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Estonian history at your fingertips

New website opened

Another chapter was officially added to Alberta’s pioneering history this weekend – the Estonians.

The descendants of the tiny Baltic country “wholeheartedly” participated in a website project to keep their history alive, said Dave kiil, communications directory of the Alberta Estonia Heritage Society.

They shared family stories and childhood memories on the Heritage community Foundation website, www.albertasource.ca.

Also known as Alberta’s online encyclopedia, the website contains a wealth of information about most of the cultural groups that make up Alberta, including Metis and aboriginals.

The Estonian database now has over 4,000 images and thousands of stories, said Kiil, who credits older society members for providing information about festivals, fashion, music, cuisine, and customs. The first Estonian, Hendrick Kingsep, arrived in Central Alberta in 1899.

He was drawn here by the offer of cheap land – quarter-sections sold for $10, said Kiil. By contrast, most farmers couldn’t own land in Estonia and were forced to work like serfs for landlords.

After Kingsep and his wife Emily settled in Sylvan Lake they helped other Estonian homesteaders make the transition to Canada. These countrymen and women later settled in places such as Medicin Valley and Gilby, near Eckville, and Stettler, Big Valley and Barons in southern Alberta, said Kiil.

While there’s a reminder of Estonian Pioneer days in a small log cabin museum in Stettler, the cultural group never established as high a profile as the Danes, who have a large museum in Dickson, or Icelandic settlers, who founded the town of Markerville.

“We didn’t have the numbers,” said Kiil, who noted the 2006 census shows there were only 2,100 Albertans of Estonian heritage.

More than half live in Edmonton or Calgary.

But the rest still largely reside in what Kiil calls “the Estonian Heart-land,” the region between Stettler, Red Deer, Sylvan Lake and Medicine Valley.

On Saturday, red Deer mayor Morris Flewwelling, MLAs Mary Anne Jablonski, and cal Dallas congratulated the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society for making their history accessible to a whole new generation on the web.

“You have given our youth a chance to learn, understand and discover,” said Jablonski.

Blaine Calkins, Wetaskiwin MP, believes it’s vital that young people, who have never known oppression, persecution or hardship to learn about people who have.

“It’s very, very important that we remember our past.”

The Heritage community Foundation is the non-profit Edmonton-based group behind the Alberta Online Encyclopedia, which receives more than 3.68 million hits a year from people looking for a range of information about Alberta.

The website is partly funded through Alberta Lotteries grants and Canada’s New Horizons program.

The Estonian website can be reached directly at www.AlbertaSource.ca/Abestonians,

Contact Lana Michelin at lmichelin@redddradvocate.com

RD Advocate

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            For more on Estonian Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

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