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John and Maria Kinna Came With Five Children

In 1903 They Came From Estonia To A Homestead North of Eckville

This is another in a series of articles on the pioneers of Red Deer and district. The articles are being contributed by the Archives Committee in the completion of its centennial project.

John Kinna

A pioneer family who contributed in many ways to the needs and developmen tof the Eckville district was that of John and Maria Kinna.

Both were born on farms in Estonia. The old European calendar records John was born on January 31, 1854; Maria on March 29, 1858.

With their family of five children they moved to Canada, in 1903, to a homestead north of Eckville. Their son, Fritz, took the northwest quarter of the same section. The Medicine River wound through both lands. Beside the river on Fritz's quarter, the father and sons built a family room 2-storey house out of logs found in the vicinity. Here John and Maria Kinna lived with Fritz and later his wife and family until their retirement to Eckville in 1942.

John's European background helped him cope with life in the wilderness.

He had done leather work, so reparing shoes, mitts or harness presented no problem. He loved to knit fish nets, and use them to catch suckers and pike from his river and nearby Wood Lake.

John Kinnda's first big purchase was four cows and several chickens. In 1903, Red Deer was the nearest trading centre but by late 1905, old Eckville, three miles south of the farm began to develop and Killick's General Store and Post Office started to trade eggs and butter for groceries.

In order to ear cash, then Kinnas contracted a mail route - Eckville, Evarts, Burnt Lake, Red Deer - and back three trips a week. A hourse-drawn two-seated homemade sleigh, or a democrat, was used for the trip. "We carried a small tent, food and bedding with us," Fritz later recalled.

"The first day we got as far as Red Deer. We disposed of the mail, then pitched our tent near the C.P.R. locomotive coal shute. The horses, and they deserved it, were treated royally in Hewson's Livery Stable."

"The next day we bought neccessities, picked up the mail, then headed homeward. Five dollars was paid for the round trip. Homestead seekers and other passengers paid one dollar."

"One very dark night, John lost his way. After driving many hours he came to a haystack where he stopped, rolled in some hay and slept. On awakening he could hardly believe his eyes. The surroundings were familiar. The haystack was his own!"

"I worked part time with a bridge gang near calgary until 1908. With my first pay I bought a shotgun and shells and rabbits, ducks and prairie chickens were added to the menu at home. All the rest of my earnings went towards the purchase of farm tools, implements, horses, cattle and sheep."

"We sheared our sheep for woll which the women washed, carded, spun, dyed and knit into socks, scarfs, sweaters and mitts. Many homemade wollen quilts were needed and made. Pillows were filled with our ducks and chicken feathers. Mattresses were ticking bags filled with long rye straw."

For many years the Kinnas hauled pig's heads and feet from the Red Deer slaughter house. These were free of charge because no one wanted to buy them.

"What do you do with these?" the butcher once asked. That was the first time he had heard the word "head cheese" which today is as expensive as any cold meat.

When a hog was butchered at home Mrs. Kinna made sausages, lard, smoked hams and blood sausage with barley added to it - a special Estonian food.

Since no canning was done for several years, mostly root crops were seeded as vegetables. These kept reasonably well in the cellar under the house.

The first field crops were rye and oats. Rye bread was a must and an oat dish "kiisla" was served frequently.

In 1909, Fritz Kinna wrote to the federal department of the interior, asking permission to dam the Medicine River and to constrcut a mill operated by water-power for the purpose of "running a feed-grinder, wood saws, threshing mill and other farm machinery for the benefit of myself and farmers in the district."

An engineer came to examine the site and eventually permission was granted. Fritz drew the plans for the entire project and built the building.

Charlie Raabis helped John build the turbine box and two wheels from logs, Red Deer Iron Works supplied gear wheels, bearings and steel shafts. The entire family participated in the building of the damn and 50 yard canal.

When the project was completed, about 1912, the undertaking was a great success and farmers came from a radius of 30 midles to grind grain. First forty then fifty cents was charged for 100 lbs. of white unbleached flour and 10 to 35 cents for brown flour.

One damn was washed away by a high water and ice. The next one was made with a more solid base of specially made planks.

At high water the mill building was tied to trees by a cable to prevent it from sailing away. The highest water was in 1920. The mill became obsolete when tractors appeared on the farm scene and farmers did their own grinding. Also Moro Bros. new modern mill at Eckville was more dependable and a welcome convenience.

In his younger days, John was a member of a village band and learned to play the clarinet. This knowledge he imparted to his children.

Although all were familiar with and enjoyed concert music there arose a need for dance music.

In about 1912 the Kinna Or chestra came into being. This band, which included interested musician from the area, served a radius of 30 miles.

Maria died on August 6, 1950. John suffered a stroke, and died the same year on November 14. Both are buried in the family plot in the Gilby Cementery.

They had six children, all born in Estonia. A son, Robert, died in infancy.

Fritz was born Sept. 30, 1881, at Waimela County. In his grade school and high school he learned both Estonian and Russian. He married Julie Yurkin. She died in 1942 in a car accident.

They had three sons and a daughter. Robert married Julia Solberg. Alfred married josephine Lenty. Woldemar did not marry. Ella is married to Hugo Neuman.

Fritz served on the eckville school bard for many years. He was a shareholder, a director and for a time president of the Eckville Co-operative Association.

He was the first secretary of the Eckville Rural Telephone Association.

In 1928 Fritz completed a two-year course in electrical engineering at the Calgary Institute of Technology. He opened a store, "Kinna Electric" at Eckville in 1937. He sold his farm in Ernest Dorchester. Today he lives in retirement at Eckville.

Olga, also born at Waimela, on March 29, 1883, married Charlie Raabis. They farmed north of Eckville until Charlie's death. She now lives in retirement at Eckville enjoying her hobby oil painting. They had three sons: Carl married Ethel Peterson, Waldo married Myrtle Greenman, and Arthur married Myrtle Erickson.

Their daughters are Salme, Mrs. Art Mottus; Hilja, Mrs. Nick Kalev; Mary, Mrs. Fred Bardenhagen; and Clara, Mrs. Vic Bremner.

Minnie was born on Oct. 9, 1886. She taught school until her marriage to Varley Buchanan when they became proprietors of the Benalto Hotel. Minnie died May 20, 1942, and is buried in the Gilby Cementery. Varley died at Brantford, Ont. They had a son, Jack and a daughter, Mona, now Mrs. Harold Crawford.

Arthur was born May 31, 1889. He studied violin in Estonia and San Franciso.

He had a homestead north of Eckville which he sold. He was married to Emma Gudmundson. They operated the Benalto general store and post office. He died in July, 1928, Emma in July, 1951. Both are buried in the Gilby Cemenery. They had a son, William, who died in infancy, and one daughter, Ruth (Mrs. Donald Wilkes).

Ernest was born on March 3, 1901. He worked at store clerking until his marriage to Ena Woima. They live on their farm in the Kuusoma district. They have no children. Ernest was secretary-treasurer of the Kuusamo school distrct for a few years. He is a director of the Kuusamo Mutual Telephone Association but his musical contributions had been his main service to this and surrounding communities since 1914. The saxophone is his favorite instrument.

(Fritz, Olga and Ernest Kinna interviewed January 1968, at Eckville from Ena Kinna).


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