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The Heritage Project 

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 Beginning in 1899, Estonian pioneers settled in the Sylvan Lake, Medicine Valley, Stettler and Barons areas. A century later these communities celebrated the centenary of their arrival. These gatherings attracted over one thousand descendants with shared interests in their common heritage. In 2000, Estonian President Lennart Meri visited Alberta and noted…”we have done very little to  try to discover the recorded history of Estonians abroad. So with your help and interest…wewill move forward.”

 Momentum from this visit, along with the centennials, led to the formation of the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society (AEHS) in 2005. As reflected in the name, emphasis was placed on the interest this community has in its historical roots and the threads that weave this six-generation family together.

In 2006 the young Society received an invitation to make a presentation about Alberta’s Estonians at the West Coast Estonian Days in Los Angeles in 2007. The invitation was accepted. Approval of a grant in early 2007 led to a contract with Polar Bear Entertainment Inc. for the production of a DVD “Alberta’s Estonians.” This multi-media video involved still images, live footage, oral interviews and narration for an entertaining 30-minute documentary. The DVD was unveiled in August 2007 in Los Angeles and shown at the Toronto Estonian Film Festival in October of the same year. Both presentations were positively received.

In 2007 a digital archive website was developed about the history and cultural heritage of Alberta’s Estonian community. This approach makes its history available to a wider  audience. The website is organized into five sections: History, People, Communities, Cultural Life and Multimedia Resources. The work was contracted with the Heritage Community Foundation. Design and production of the website was sponsored by grants from the governments of Alberta, Canada and Estonia, and the Estonian Foundation of Canada. The “Alberta’s Estonian Heritage” website was completed in 2011. It is preserved on Archive- It, an Internet Library for preserving digital material.

A 300-page illustrated book ‘Freedom, Land, & Legacy: Alberta’s Estonians, 1899-2009’ was published in 2010. Compiled by Dave Kiil and Eda McClung, the book describes the legacy of the early pioneers and presents stories of activities and achievements of post-World War II immigrants. It includes articles translated from Estonian into English for the first time. Tamara Palmer Seiler writes in the introduction: “although they were a small group, the Estonians seemed to defy easy categorization”…. “while facing the extreme challenges of carving out a place for themselves in a new land, they maintained their exceptional passion for literature, music and politics.” The book captures the fascinating story of Alberta’s Estonian community in words and pictures.

Historical records collected for the DVD, the heritage book and the digital archive achieved Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) approval to archive all Alberta Estonian Heritage Project material collected as a by-product of these activities. The final donation will be made in early 2012. The Estonian Collection will be processed and described by PAA staff by summer of 2012. When completed, the entire Collection will be accessible onsite and online at the PAA. The AEHS website provides a link to the Estonian Collection at PAA.

 The Heritage Project concludes with a six-panel travelling display outlining the 110-year history of Alberta’s Estonians. The exhibit will be on display at the Provincial Archives of Alberta in Edmonton from March to May, 2012, and at the AEHS Midsummer Festival at Gilby Hall on June 22-23. Beginning in July, it will be available for use by interested archives, museums and other organizations in Alberta and possibly other locations in Canada. An accompanying information card will outline the contents and availability of the written and digital products of the Heritage Project.

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