History of Medicine Valley Estonian Settlement

Voldemar Matiisen

(translated by Tõnu Onu)


The collection and preservation of the data relating to the early (1900-1920) history of the Medicine Valley Estonian settlement has been a project of this writer for some time. The creation of the Estonian Historical Commission in 1965 provided the final stimulus to implement the project. The assignment became my responsibility and was completed in the 1970s.

Unfortunately the completion of the work has dragged on for too long, due largely to lack of experience in finding historical sources as well as in managing and organizing the material gathered. However, the collection of material could not be delayed any longer. The ranks of those who were part of establishing the Medicine Valley settlement in the early years are diminishing rapidly. Furthermore, few of them have preserved historically valuable material from that period.

The Medicine Valley Estonian Society (MVES) beginning in 1910 was really the central organization for the whole Estonian settlement. The minutes of the MVES activities from 1910-1917 and from 1932 to the present (1965) have been preserved as well as the accounts from 1934 and most of the library and list of books. Significant personal diaries and financial records of only one of the first settlers in Medicine Valley have been preserved, those of August Posti. Fortunately the material has been well kept in the hands of his children, despite being in scattered places. Frits Kinna's financial records from 1910 (exemplary) and from 1913-1915 have also been preserved. Unfortunately the personal documents of Henri Kingsep and most probably the record of MVES minutes starting in 1919 were destroyed in a fire. That record must have still existed in 1932 when a new record was started since the first minutes state that: "The minutes of the previous meeting were adopted." Brothers Sam and Hendrik Kinna apparently had kept an accurate diary and farm accounts but before his death in 1948, Hendrik is believed to have burned all those documents and a large part of his extensive personal library. In March of 1968 Mrs. Hilja Kalev (Hendrik and Sam Kinna were her uncles) revealed that the diary in question was in her possession and had not been burned. However, she is not willing to show it to anyone since it contains much personal information as well as being critical of some individuals (Frits Kinna). My repeated efforts to convince Mrs. Hilja Kalev of the importance of the said diary with respect to the general history of Estonians were in vain.

I was unsuccessful in finding any information in the Lacombe County archives about the early history of the Estonian School.

My main objective has been to gather and preserve as much available information as possible about the Estonian settlement, especially its early years (1900-1920). That information can be found in the appendices. My summary in no way claims to be "historical" in the academic sense of the word. However, I hope that the information gathered contains elements that will be useful to someone preparing a historical overview.

Historical Background

The trio1 who at the turn of the century were the founders establishing the Sylvan Lake and Medicine Valley (Alberta) Estonian settlement came from South Estonia. August Posti came from the Tani farm in the parish of Rõngu, in the township of Hellenurme, in the province of Tartu. He attended confirmation classes in Rõngu in 1888 and was married there in 1897. (Appendix 3, note #12) Brothers, Hendrik (also Henri) (younger) and Kristjan (also Christian) (older) Kärsna came from the large and wealthy farm of Horma in the township of Liinamäe in the province of Võru.2 They received what at the time was considered a good education. Hendrik Kingsep's childhood friend, most likely a classmate and later of like-mind, was Hendrik Kinna (1864). The father of the two brothers, "Horma Ott", wanted his son Hendrik to become a church minister and Kristjan a doctor. (explanation from Lembit Kingsep) However, during the last decade of the 19th century the young educated class in Russia, especially in border areas including Estonia were bitten by liberal-radical views in opposition to the chauvinism of the Russian Czar's authority. Consequently Hendrik (Kärsna) became a school teacher in Nuustaku, Ottepää. This profession also protected him from being conscripted into the Russian army. Kristjan became a sailor and world traveller. Hendrik Kinna, after having served in the Russian military as a sergeant-major, worked at the turn of the century as a cashier and accountant in a large wine firm.

Sylvan (Snake) Lake Estonian Settlement

Around 1898 Kristjan Kingsep ended his sea travels and came ashore in New York where a great number of other Estonian sailors and port workers had arrived before him. At the time there were huge waves of emigration from Europe, especially to the USA with the Alaska gold rush of 1880 and the Klondike gold rush of 1896-1899. The Canadian government also did its part by supporting the Canadian Pacific Railway's efforts to settle the prairies in the Canadian West, first and foremost with people who would till the soil. Homesteads of 160 acres were given for free from Crown lands with only $10 being charged for registration. When this information reached Hendrik from his brother Kristjan, he set out to cross the ocean with his whole family (wife Emilie, daughters three year old Linda and year old Salme). At the beginning of 1899 they joined Kristjan in New York and continued their journey to the promised-land - western Canada. The rode as far to the wild-west as the railway went at the time - Calgary. From there they took the Calgary-Edmonton line north to Red Deer. All homesteads ten miles west from Red Deer had already been given out. At that time the land west of Red Deer was covered mainly by aspen and lower areas by willows since forest fires had swept though the areas several times over the years. There were rich grasslands and a few clearings which were suitable for cultivating gardens. This is where on May 9, 1899 Kristjan and Hendrik Kingsep decided to take homesteads about 10 miles west of Red Deer near Snake (later Sylvan) Lake. The available land in the area was covered by rich grass and water for herds. The hope was that it would take a few years before obtrusive neighbours would arrive. They began to raise cattle.

When Horma Ott heard that his son Kristjan had put down roots in Canada's western wilderness and with his brother taken a homestead, in 1899 he put Kristjan's family (wife Tiina and five children) on a train and sent them on their way to his son. Tiina made the long and difficult journey with her small children on her own. (Appendix #4) Word went back from Hendrik to his relative August Posti in the homeland who until then was without land and working on his father's farm, raising cattle to feed his family. In February of 1902 August Posti sold off his belongings and farm animals in Estonia. This gave him 151 roubles and 60 kopecks. To this he added his bank savings (316 roubles 40 kopecks) and sums received from other individuals as well as paid up loans (146 roubles) which gave him 613 roubles. From this amount he paid 363 roubles 40 kopecks for his trip to America (two adults and two children aged four and two) of which 316 roubles was for tickets and 47 roubles for other expenses. (Reference # 16) By March 17th he was on the shores of Sylvan Lake (Appendix # 5) and had joined the collective farm on March 31st.

This agricultural co-operative (Appendix #6) which lasted a mere eight months and had only three (originally four) Estonian families of settlers,3 was undoubtedly the first attempt to set up in practice the idea of a collective farm or kolkhoz not based on religious beliefs. However, the participants were of like political mind and related. (August Posti and Hendrik Kingsep)

When the collective farm was disbanded on October 26, 1902, Hendrik Kingsep and August Posti with their families settled 24 miles to the west in Medicine Valley. Kristjan Kingsep's family stayed put since Kristjan himself left the family in December of the same year. In the meantime, however, Peeter Herman's family who were friends of Kristjan from New York, their relatives the Walls and many other Estonians had settled by Sylvan Lake. (See Appendix #4 and map)

On September 6, 1902 Hendrik Kinna, Hendrik Kingsep's class mate, also arrived in Sylvan Lake. He did not take land there but with the families of H. Kingsep and A. Posti settled in Medicine Valley on October 26, 1902. (Appendix #5 and Appendix #6)

Many Estonians from Russia also settled by Sylvan Lake during the 1901-1904 period. Some of them took homesteads (south of the Sylvan Lake - Red Deer road), many, however, stopped only to look around to find suitable land. After lengthy travels they found suitable land in Stettler and Big Valley (Alberta). Estonians from Russia settled there throughout 1904. (Appendix 4 - ½).

Medicine Valley Estonian Settlement

Early period (1902 -1920): Growth in numbers

The first to settle in Medicine Valley from the Sylvan Lake in October 1902 were the Hendrik Kingsep and August Posti families and Hendrik Kinna. (Appendix 4) The first two and Kristjan Kingsep's family had already been to Medicine Valley in the summer of that year to stack hay and put up buildings in preparation for resettlement in the fall. Medicine Valley did not yet have a single settler and all of the land was still available. August Posti registered a homestead in his name on February 10, 1903. (Reference #14) Hendrik Kinna took a homestead on April 24, 1903. Hendrik Kingsep did not obtain a homestead but settled on Canadian Pacific Railway land. Five years later (March 20 1908) A. Posti became the actual owner of the land. (Reference #15)4

Since the land as well as the natural surroundings in Medicine Valley seemed like the promised-land to the new settlers (Appendix #37). August Posti sent word back to his home in the province of Tartu (Appendix #17) and Hendrik Kinna to his relatives in the province of Võru. Already in the following spring (1903) large groups of new settlers started arriving (Appendix #8) from the Hellenurme area, from the City of Tartu, from Kärgula in 1903 and Sõmerpalu in 1903 and 1904 (in the province of Võru). The Sestrap group came separately from Tallinn in 1905. The last to arrive was a larger group led by Juhan Moro (Muru) in 1905. (Appendix #8-3) With the end of the Russian-Japanese War (started January 28, 1904) and the 1905 Russian Revolution (October 1905) events and sentiments calmed down in the Estonian homeland. Consequently, the urge to settle in Canada also receded. During the 1905-1910 period only a few people came to Medicine Valley (Appendix #26) since the reason for young men reaching conscription age (21) to settle elsewhere was primarily to avoid service in the Russian military. Older people left to settle elsewhere in order to obtain their own land.

From 1910 to 1916 there was a wave of young settlers (Appendix #8) since there was fear that Russia would enter the Balkan War and the tension preceding First World War was starting to build. During the years from 1916 to 1923 there were no new Estonian arrivals in Medicine Valley. However, two families (a total of ten members) and five single individuals left to resettle elsewhere and 11 people passed away.(Appendices #11 and 12)

By the end of this early period the Medicine Valley Estonian settlement had grown to approximately 160 members with 45 households consisting of 30 families and about 15 single individuals. (Appendix #10) This number does not include the third generation born here of whom there were only a few. At the end of this period all of the families and most of the single individuals had started farming. In addition to farming, some did own small enterprises such as watermills. Some of the single young men went out to do seasonal work in mines and forests.

At the end of this period the 33 Estonian households in Medicine Valley owned 57 quarters of land for an average of 1.7 quarters or 272 acres per owner. (Appendix #40 - map #39)


The early period

As Hendrik Kinna justifiably claims (Appendix #37) the majority of the first settlers had a radical outlook on life. Among them were educated and spirited individuals who were good social organizers. Understandably a close intellectual relationship developed with the "Uus Ilm" ("New World" newspaper which began publication in 1909) group in New York and they came to share the latter's step-by-step change of view from socialism to Communism.

At the MVES meetings and lectures (Feb. 5, 1911, July 9, 1911 and 1912) socialism and aggressive politics soon became the main topics of discussion. For example, during a period of six months at the end of meetings Hendrik Kingsep read all of Karl Marx' Capitalism. The politically more conservative members such as Karl and Paul Langer, Paul Koot, August Pihuoja, Juhan Kinna, Juhan Moro, Mart Sestrap and others (see the membership list of 1914 - Appendix #30) withdrew to some extent from the activities of the Society. Neutral members Frits Kinna, August Posti, J. Mäesep and others still did try to maintain the activities of the Society. They attempted to carry out the cultural objectives established when the Society was founded, foremost of which was to build their own hall. The list of activities in the Society's 1914 annual report (presented at the annual meeting on January 11, 1915) included Frits Kinna's presentation (March 8, 1914) "Ideas and Rules of the Society". However, in the minutes of the March 8, 1914 meeting which had ten points, there is no mention of F. Kinna's presentation. An addition has been made later at the end of the minutes "Note that the title of the President's speech has been omitted". The recording secretary was H. Kingsep and he devoted nine pages of the minutes to his own speech. There was an attempt to limit political propaganda by permitting Hendrik Kingsep to talk about socialism for only half an hour at each meeting (March 10, 1912). August Posti in his diary on April 16, 1912 wrote: "In the evening we attended a socialist meeting". It is not mentioned where the meeting took place. There is no evidence as to whether the Medicine Valley Estonian political leaders were also caught up in the network of paid Moscow agents working in Western Canada at the time (C. W. Harvison "The Spies in Our Midst" Weekend Magazine of January 21, 1967 - Appendix #46). A police search did take place here and Hendrik Kinna was unluckier than the others and was fined $200 for possessing banned publications. (Appendix #37)

The growing lack of mutual confidence and disintegration based on political motivations was most evident for many years with respect to building a hall for the society. A complete split occurred in 1918 when the Society's Estonian Hall was built and the question was not only the location of the building. At that time, a group led by Hendrik Kingsep and joined by J. Vares, Mart Sestrap and the Mõttus family from west of Gilby separated from the others. This group later (1921), with Hendrik Kingsep, being one of the organizers, participated with others in building a hall in Gilby.

After the Estonian-Russian Peace treaty was signed, large numbers of Estonians opted to return to their homeland (1921-23). In the West there was an underground (especially in Germany, Albreht: "Das verratene Sotsialismus" 1941?) as well as public propaganda in the USA encouraging settlement in Russia to build socialism. (Edward Õun, Perhaps the next night", Sweden 1956 pp. 10-14) The newspaper "Uus Ilm" (New World) in New York was the organizer for Estonians resettling.

Among the Medicine Valley Estonians, New York's confidence was placed in Hendrik Kingsep. At the beginning of March 1923 a group of Estonians left Medicine Valley to build Russia. (Appendix # 32) Although this was a significant loss for the small Estonian community, it did have a sobering effect in its own way. This was especially true when within a year or two, three of the resettlers returned from Russia.

From the minutes of the MVES (1913-15) and August Posti's diary, it can be seen that Estonian farmers regularly participated in the meetings of the regional local of the United Farmers of Alberta and were the founders of UFA's Gilby local. The UFA's endeavours beginning in1911 and at the end of the First World War and later (1921) also were of a social-political nature. (Grant MacEwan, "Poking into Politics" Edmonton 1966 pp. 111-12 and Appendix #31-c)

A more definite change in direction of the Society's leadership occurred at the annual meeting of January1913 when an executive committee was elected instead of an executive. (Appendix #30) It appears, however, that the majority of members were indifferent to socialism despite the best efforts of the leader. Why else would the secretary of the Society at three consecutive meetings, February 9, March 9 and April 13, 1913 have urged the members to take part in the founding meeting of the socialist society in Gilby which had been repeatedly cancelled due to lack of participants? The fourth attempt to establish the society took place in Hendrik Kinna's home on April 20, 1913 when only three people attended. Consequently, the socialist society was not established.

The atmosphere at the meetings of the MVES as early as the beginning of 1913 can be ascertained by the minutes of April 13, 1913 written by Hendrik Kingsep himself. ..."When the Society decided a year and a half ago that I would speak about socialism for half an hour at every meeting, it became necessary for me to start studying socialism to reach solid truth from notions without which there cannot be any results. During this time I have read about 15 books and three socialist newspapers, one regularly and excerpts from two. Each one of the writers, many of them world famous, explains capitalism and its activities very well in his own way. But nothing gave my spirit the same satisfaction as the flashbacks to the goblin stories I had heard as a child...

Capitalism is a goblin - capitalistic government - goblin government -socialism - destroys the goblin and breaks its neck - ...There was also a discussion of the folly of capitalism and since there is no socialist candidate in Lacombe it was decided not to go and vote."

In those minutes alone there are nine long pages of similar text. The purpose of such minutes is shown by the calculation on the last page:

Points 9 and 10 - 9 pages with 33 lines =297 lines x 7 words per line = 2079 words.

A column in "Uus Ilm" has 107 lines with 6 words per line = 642 words. 2079 divided by 642 = 3 columns.

During 1914 and 1915, socialism was the most frequent topic of discussion at meetings. The executive made particular attempts to assist the "Uus Ilm" newspaper, either by the purchase of shares (May 10, 1914, April 11, 1915), organization of subscriptions to the newspaper (May 1, 1914 and December 1915), contributions to the newspaper (April 13, 1913) and its calendar (July 10, 1915), fund raising (May 10, 1915) and support for the purchase of a new typewriter (March 16, 1916 etc.

In 1916 there was a complete change in the political endeavours of the Society's executive. Hendrik Kingsep, although still Vice-President, did not take an active role in running the Society or the meetings. During the whole year he took part in only one of nine meetings (March 16) where there was a discussion of an issue with political undertones - support of the newspaper "Uus Ilm".

In the six meetings held in 1917 not a single issue of a political nature was raised. Hendrik Kingsep was not elected to the executive since at the time of the annual general meeting in January he was travelling in California. His only recorded participation in 1917 was on February 11th where he gave a long and practical description of his trip to Victoria and California to explore the possibilities for new settlements.

The written history of the MVES stopped with the minutes of November 11, 1917 and did not resume until 1932. Thus, there is no possibility of taking a closer look at the political campaign that influenced part of the Medicine Valley Estonians in 1923 to emigrate to Russia to build up socialism. (See Appendix #32)

Appendix #2: Chronology of Settlement

1898 Kristjan Kingsep arrives in New York from South America

1899 Hendrik Kingsep arrives in New York from Estonia with his family and joins his brother Kristjan. They set out for the Canadian West and reached Sylvan (Snake) Lake near Red Deer. (Appendix #4) On May 9th both obtain homesteads there.

1900 Kristjan Kingsep's wife, Tiina, arrives with her children in Sylvan Lake.

1901 On March 9th the first Estonian collective farm "Uhisus" is established near Sylvan Lake. (Appendix # 6)

  • On March 18th August Posti arrives with his family in Sylvan Lake to find in addition to Hendrik and Kristjan Kingsep, the Kask, Neithal and Wassily Piht families.
  • On March 20th Minister Sillak came to Sylvan Lake.
  • On March 31st August Posti is accepted as a member of "Uhisus"
  • On September 6th Hendrik Kinna arrives in Sylvan Lake.
  • On October 26 "Uhisus" puts and end to its activities. Its members Hendrik Kingsep and August Posti with their families settle in Medicine Valley. Hendrik Kinna joins them. (Appendix #6)
  • During the year several Estonian families arrive in Sylvan Lake from Russia including Magnus Tipman and others. (Appendix #4)

1902 The following groups arrive in Medicine Valley from Estonia:

  • Peeter Perler's group from the area around Tartu (Appendix #8)
  • Juhan Kinna's group (in April) from Kõrgula in the province of Võru. (Appendix #8)
  • Karl Moro's family from Sõmerpalu in the province of Võru. (Appendix #8-2)
  • In the spring brothers Karl and Juhan Rääbis arrive from the province of Võru. (Appendix #8)

1904 The majority of Estonians who had settled in Sylvan Lake from Russia leave to settle in Stettler and Big Valley. (Appendix #40)

1905 In the spring Juhan Muru's (Moro) group arrives in Medicine Valley from the province of Võru. (Appendix #8)
In February the Sestrap family arrives from the Tallinn area.
In the spring Hendrik Kingsep's father "Horma Ott Känksep" arrives.
The first deaths occur in Medicine Valley Estonian families. A graveyard is established on the property of K. Rääbis (Appendix #11)

1906-09 A few families arrive in Medicine Valley from Estonia (Appendix #26)

1909 Building of the Estonian School in Medicine Valley (Appendix #44)
The CPR starts selling land it owns.

1910 In April the Medicine Valley Estonian Society (MVES) is founded (Appendix #30)
In the same year new settlers start arriving from Estonia (Appendix #8)
Juhan Mäesep's water mill starts up in May

1911 Frits Kinna's water mill starts up in November

1912 In January, brothers Juhan and Karl Pihuoja (Pihooja) arrive from the province of Võru.
A train station is opened in Eckville; a small village and commercial centre develops there.
On June 12 the Eckville Co-op is established (Appendix #38)

1914 Arrival of brothers Mõttus and Huul (Appendix #3)
On June 13 the "Kalmu Cemetery Company" is established in Medicine Valley (Appendix #12)

1916 In the spring, the last of the settlers from the early period arrive from Estonia, travelling through Siberia, over Japan to Vancouver:

  1. the family of Juhan Mõttus, his wife and three sons (Appendix #8 and #21)
  2. Juhan Wernik settles in Okanagan, B.C. from Medicine Valley

1917 Telephones are installed on the farms in Medicine Valley

1918 The first Estonians from Medicine Valley depart for Estonia, Karl and Juhan Pihuoja and K. Osol;
Juhan Mäesep - unknown (via Japan)
In April and May the Estonian Hall was built in Medicine Valley.(Medicine Valley Estonian Society) (Appendix #29)

1921 A community hall was built in Gilby, Medicine Valley

1923 In January the first settlers after the First World War arrive from Estonia. Juhan Pihuoja returns with his wife.
On March 1st a group of Estonians from Eckville set out to join other Estonians in New York.
The "Koidu Collective Farm" is established in Russia.
At the end of October Henri Kinna and August Posti arrive at the collective farm. (Appendix #32)

1924 In September August Posti is the first to return from the "Koidu Collective Farm" in Russia.

Appendix #9

List of Estonian Farmers in Medicine Valley in 1913

The list is an extract from the minutes of the meeting of the Medicine Valley Estonian Society on August 10, 1913 containing the names of the Estonian settlers from Medicine Valley (38) and the four from Sylvan Lake who were likely to participate in building the Society's Estonian Hall.

1) Kingsep Henri20) Mõttus Hugo
2) Kinna Juhan21) Mõttus Jakob
3) Kinna Henri22) Mõttus Kusta
4) Kinna Samm (Sam)23 Mäesep J.
5) Kinna Frits24) Ossul Oskar
6) Kinna Art25) Perler Peter
7) Koot (Koots) Paul26) Pihuoja (Pihooja) Juhan
8) Koot (Koots) Peter27) Pihuoja (Pihooja) August
9) Koot (Koots) Ferdinand (Paul's son)28) Pihuoja (Pihooja) Karl
10) Huul Karl29) Posti August
11) Langer Karl30) Rääbis Charlie
12) Langer Paul31) Rääbis Jaan
13) Matteus (Matthews) Adam32) Sestrap Mart
14) Moro Hendrik33) Sestrap Mihkel
15) Moro Jaan34) Sestrap Gustav
16) Moro Juhan35) Teener Jaan
17) Moro Karl36) Toomingas Jaan
18) Moro Peeter (Juhan's son)37) Vares J.
19 Mõttus Aleksander38) Wernick J.

From Sylvan Lake:
1) Herman P.
2) Wall Gustav
3) Wall Madis
4) Piht Wassili (new name Walters Peeter)

Note: August Posti proposed the building of the Hall; the list of names was most likely drawn up by August Posti. It is not the list of members of the Society. According to the minutes nine members (and ? Kinna) and several outsiders participated in the meeting. The names of participants in the meeting are underlined.

Appendix #11


The first cemetery for Estonians in Medicine Valley was on a sandy hill north of the farmyard on the property of Charlie Rääbis. (See map #4) According to Olga Rääbis and Kinna the following people are buried there:

  1. Ott Kingsep (also Kärsna or Känksep) 1905
  2. Endel Rääbis, son of Charley and Leena, as an infant
  3. Leena Rääbis, Charlie' wife, killed when struck by lightening
  4. Helen Rääbis, daughter of Charlie and Leena
  5. Frits Moro, son of Juhan and Anna
  6. The son of August and Miili Posti, stillborn 1909
  7. Harri Rääbis, son of Jaan and Rosalie, born 1900, died 1921.
  8. Gustav Uudeküll, lived near Sylvan Lake, worked in mining, lived here before the arrival of the Kinnas.

Note: Ott Kingsep's grave is the only one with a more permanent headstone, a massive poured concrete structure measuring 4 x 2 ½ feet. This memorial appears to have been erected in 1923. Three dates are engraved on the square base, 1809, 1818 and 1917. Their significance is unknown.

The other graves are unknown. Only the remains of a fence can be seen under a new aspen forest which is now used as pasture. The land at present belongs to Waldo Rääbis, Charley's son.
V. Matiisen, summer 1965

Extract from the record of
minutes of the Medicine Valley Estonian Society

April 9, 1911

Meeting at S. Kinna's residence
Most members present.
Main points for discussion on the agenda:

  1. Establishing a collective farm
  2. Organization of a graveyard

A discussion followed on the issue of the cemetery. H. Kingsep proposed that whether or not the question is raised, it should be decided by a vote.

The vote showed twelve members in favour and five against. J. Wernick proposed a motion asking if people were in favour of maintaining the site of the old cemetery or choosing a new one. Opinion was in favour of the old site as long as conditions for purchase of the land were satisfactory. C. Rääbis promised to provide two acres of dry land for $10 an acre. Paul Langer thought that since all Estonians were not present who would gladly participate and help defray costs, it would be preferable to send out a letter and hold a vote to see who supports the project.

That motion was accepted and it was decided that the secretary give the letter to M. Sestrap in Gilby to have people there sign it.

Meeting chaired by the President, J. Wernick

Minutes drafted by the Secretary, F. Kinna

August 13 at S. Kinna's residence

"There was a discussion about the cemetery: Johann Kinna proposed that a new site be chosen which would be more suitable for the purpose. Jaak Kinna promised to provide free land for it.

The majority support the proposal. The Society elected a committee to organize the project and choose the property: H. Kinna, F. Kinna, K. Anton, P.Langer, J. Wernick. (See Appendix #12)
V. Matiisen

Appendix # 12

The Gilby Cemetery
Meeting respecting graveyard in Gilby June 1914

(Copy of minutes: V. Matiisen)

The meeting was called to establish a Cemetery Company. The Secretary read the financial statement which indicated that $40 had already been contributed by members. Of this amount $28.15 had been paid for expenses leaving $11.85 in the account.

This was followed by a presentation of the requirements set out in government regulations for the establishment of a cemetery company.

It was decided to establish the Company and name it the "Kalmu Cemetery Company". K. Langer proposed, seconded by H. Kinna that capital to establish the Company should be $480 divided into 60 shares of $8 each.

A board of directors was elected with J. Teener as President, proposed by K. Langer and seconded by P. Perler; F. Kinna as Secretary, proposed by Matteus and seconded by K. Langer; Mike Sestrap as Treasurer, proposed by Pihuoja and seconded by P. Langer.

The size of the grave sites was set at: a single grave 10 x 5 feet at $5; plots 10 x10 feet at $10, 10 x15 feet at $12, 10 x 20 feet at $16.

The graves were to be seven feet deep.

With that the meeting came to an end.

A note had been added in pencil later stating: It was decided to change the size of the plots and the price of individual graves as stated in the next minutes.
Signature (John Teener)

Note: Gilby is located in Medicine Valley, seven miles north and one and a half miles west of Eckville. There is a bridge over the Medicine River from long ago. On the east shore of the River, Mihkel (Mike) Sestrap opened a farm store, probably around 1906-07. In fact, the meeting was held in his store. Jaak Kinna donated land for the cemetery from his homestead.

In 1921 the Gilby Hall was built near the bridge on a lot beside the store. Mike Sestrap's store, as well as the Gilby Hall, was on J. Teener's homestead. He sold the homestead to an Englishman in 1919.

Jaak Kinna gave the land for the cemetery for free from his homestead. He was also one of the first to be buried in the new cemetery on March 20, 1917. The cemetery is located a half mile west of Gilby. (See map Appendix #12)
V. Matiisen

Meeting at Residence of J. Teener June 7, 1915

(Copy of minutes: V. Matiisen)

J. Teener was appointed to chair the meeting. The members present were: J. Teener, Mart Sestrtap, H. Mõttus, Oskar Mõttus, H. Kinna, Jaak Kinna, P. Langer, K. Langer, Mike Sestrap, P. Perler, A. Pihuoja and F. Kinna.

The minutes of the previous meeting were read but not approved since it was decided to change the size of the plots. K. Langer proposed that the previous plot of 10 x 10 feet be changed to 10 x 20 feet for the same amount of $10 with a plot being 20 feet measured from south to north and 10 feet measured from west to east. H. Kinna seconded the motion and it was approved by a majority.

Jaak Kinna proposed that everyone carrying out a burial be responsible for preparing their own grave and marking it either with a stone or cross and that the grave be seven feet deep.

The proposal was supported unanimously.

The price was to remain at $8 for plots measuring 10 x 20 feet which was to be the basic size. The plots on the east side measuring 11 x 11 feet cost $5.

If someone wishes to buy two plots of 10 x 20 side by side or if they already have one plot and wish to buy another one next to it, the cost would be $14 for the 20 x 20 feet plot. The rate for an individual grave was set at $3. The regulation was adopted unanimously.

Mike Sestrap read the following financial statement:

Revenues $25.85
Expenses $14.55
Balance $11.30

With respect to Wall's father, it was considered to not be a matter for the Company. It was decided not to demand a deposit to bury the dead in order to give people a chance to bury their deceased even if they do not have the money at the time. They would be allowed to pay when they have the money. It was decided to place a notice at the gates of the Cemetery that burial without permission is prohibited: permission must be obtained from the executive of the Cemetery who would indicate where a burial can take place. The following were elected to the executive unanimously: President, J. Teener, nominated by H. Kinna and seconded by K. Langer; Treasurer, Mike Sestrap, nominated by Pihuoja and seconded by Perler; Secretary F. Kinna, nominated by K. Langer and seconded by H. Kinna.

It was decided to purchase two shovels with a short handle and one with a long handle. It was decided to put up a ten foot high wooden cross at the cemetery. Oskar Mõttus accepted the task of making the cross measuring 10 feet high and 6 x 6 inches square, painting it black and installing it for $3.50. Mart Sestrap took it upon himself to make a tool box measuring 6 x 3 x 3 feet with a lock and hinges, paint and place it at the Cemetery for $2.

This was followed by a selection of gravesites and the meeting was then adjourned.

Signature (John Teener)

Meeting of June 12, 1916

(Copy of minutes)

Members present: J. Teener, H. Kinna, Paul Koot, Jaak Kinna, P. Perler, Mart Sestrap and F. Kinna.

J. Teener was elected to chair the meeting. The minutes of the previous meeting were read and adopted.

According to the Treasurer's report there was $6.35 in the cash box. Mihkel (Mike) Sestrap resigned as Treasurer. Paul Koot proposed that 50 cents be paid each time to whoever shows gravesites to people. H. Kinna seconded the motion and it was adopted unanimously.

It was decided to rearrange the plots in accordance with the new regulation. It is considered essential to put up a notice, initially on paper, at the cemetery of the regulations required by the Company.

J. Teener was elected President unanimously; H. Kinna as Treasurer, nominated by Perler and seconded by Teener; F. Kinna as Secretary, nominated by H. Kinna and seconded by Perler.

The responsibility of showing gravesites was assigned to J. Teener, for which he would be paid 50 cents each time.

The meeting was then adjourned.
Signature (John Teener)

On June 18, 1917 a meeting was held in the home of J. Teener. Five members were present, all of them Estonian. In addition, Mr. Dan Clausen was present and was elected Secretary-Treasurer (Nominated by H. Kinna). From that meeting on, English became the language of proceedings.

December 27, 1918 meeting in the Gilby store. Nine members were present, all Estonians and the Secretary-Treasurer (English). Estonians remained as the only active members (of the Society) and constituted the executive. Beginning in June of 1930 members from other ethnic groups also participated in the meetings at the Gilby Hall. Up to the present, 21 Estonians and 24 people of other ethnic groups have been buried in the cemetery.


Appendix #12

Stories from the Pioneer Period in Medicine Valley
Frits Kinna's story

The store, the post office and the county office were in Red Deer. The first to maintain contact was Hendrik Kingsep. He made one trip which took three days each month to bring the mail and goods from stores. He made the trip with a wagon he had built; the wheels were made of boards but had neither spokes nor iron rims. The wagon was pulled by a horse and ox. A few years later (around 1905-06) someone by the name of Killick built a house in Eckford (this is where the name Eckville comes from) on land near the bridge on the Medicine River a mile north of the present town and now (1965) owned by Onifryzen. Killick had a store and post office in the house and Snell had a hotel at the same place. Later a school was built west of the bridge on land now owned by Lembit Kingsep. In 1912 when the CNR reached Eckville, establishments were moved there i.e. the present town site. When the post office was in Killick's house we all took turns at the beginning to bring the mail from Red Deer. From 1908 to 1912 I brought the mail and goods from stores three times a week. The trip took two days and I was paid $5. I used two horses. The cost of a horse and also of a mule was $100 to $150.

The first threshing machine was owned by Hendrik Kingsep. The machine, which was in common use in Estonia, was powered by horses. When Kingsep stopped delivering mail (1908) he acquired a gasoline motor and later a threshing machine powered by a steam engine. I was the "engineer".

Back in Estonia, in Sõmerpalu and elsewhere in the province of Võru, it was difficult to get water for people and herds, and the soil was poor. For the settlers from Võru, this made the Medicine River Valley very appealing with its deep black soil, rich grasslands, plentiful water and high shore line which facilitated damming water to build water mills.

My father, Juhan, was a tenant on a manor dairy farm, in Kärgula. This, however, meant moving a lot. My grandfather, Jaak, was also a tenant on a manor dairy farm. My father had saved enough money after moving expenses to buy a cow. We got flour, salt, sugar and fat from Red Deer and meat and fish we got from nature. My father stayed at home and I went out to work on a CPR bridge building gang. From my first pay I bought a rifle to go hunting. We went home only during the holidays. We came back from Red Deer by foot (40 miles). We were paid $2 a day from which meal money was deducted. There were many Estonians with me. I remember some: August Posti, Karl Rääbis, Sam Kinna. Sam Kinna's leg was badly hurt in an accident and he suffered to the end of his life from the injury. The money to buy farm equipment and an ox came from my wages. My sisters also went out to work in Red Deer as domestic help.

From the experience I gained from bridge building (cement work), I was able to start building a dam for a mill with the help of Karl Rääbis. We began the work in 1911 when I stopped delivering the mail. I built the turbine myself and ordered the mill stones from the USA. The mill started operating in November 1911 (Appendix #41).

When we obtained land, there were two log huts with mud roofs on my homestead used by a rancher named Armstrong. Along with cattle he raised horses on open land. We kept the huts and lived in them until we built our own houses. When we arrived from Estonia we spent our first year with my uncle Hendrik Kinna.

The size of a homestead was 160 acres (1/4 section). The government gave out the homesteads for free from its stock of land to all applicants (men or single women, 21 years of age or older).* The only fee was $10 for registration. The homestead was certified in the name of the individual if he lived there and cultivated 15 acres of land in the first year. (Appendix #36) Boundary lines had been made which were visible and at the corner of each section and ¼ section there were numbered steel stakes in the ground. This allowed everyone to find his homestead on his own.

During the first decade (until 1912) when I delivered the mail, the road used between Medicine Valley and Sylvan Lake was an old Indian trail which on higher ground went through Evert. Between Sylvan Lake and Red Deer there already was a road in the same direction as the present Highway 11. (This is not completely accurate V/M.)

The first businesses to be established in the new Eckville when the railway arrived around 1912 were the general store (owned by Forhan and Clausen), a post office, a garage (Isaacson), a hotel (owned by Lumbek) and a co-op store. The school house by the river was also moved there. Around 1915 (?) there was major fire which destroyed all buildings on the east side of the main street.

* For the purpose of settling Canada's three western provinces, a regulation was made for the division of land suitable for agriculture during the second half of the 19th century. At that time the land was divided into six mile strips from north to south. The strips were called ranges and between each meridian in southern Alberta there are 30 ranges and in central Alberta, 28 ranges. Each range in turn was divided into 6 x 6 = 36 square mile townships which are numbered from 1 to 112 from the south at the USA border northward. The townships were divided by boundaries of 1 x1 = one square mile parts called sections (640 acres) and these in turn were divided into quarters of 160 acres or 16 legal subdivisions (see map and Appendix #36).

The even numbered sections in each township belonged to the government's stock of land to be given to applicants for homesteads. From its land, the government gave one section for a school house and one for the Hudson Bay Company. All odd numbered sections belonged to the CPR as compensation for building the railway and settling the Canadian West.

The CPR began selling land in 1909. Pieces of land up to 640 acres were sold to farmers but also to speculators. In 1910 some land near the Edmonton-Calgary line was being sold for prices of $22.00-$30.00 an acre. The conditions for giving land to the CPR were specified on October 21, 1881 in the Syndicate Contract. According to the Contract, each odd numbered section within 24 miles on both sides of the railroad between the 49th and 57th parallel belonged to the CPR. (See reference #20) V. Matiisen

When our family settled in Medicine Valley in the spring of 1903, there were no settlers other than a few Estonian families (Hendrik Kingsep, August Posti) and my uncle Hendrik Kinna. The same or the following year the first to come were the Swedes, Gilbertson (taking homestead NW to SW 22-41-3 and NW -15-14-3, V.M.). The area around Sylvan Lake and westward to Benalto was settled by Finns. Huge numbers of them had resettled from the United States. During the following few years, I don't know exactly when since I was away from home on a CPR construction crew, the Eckville area was also settled by Finns.


The high price of horses led to enterprising initiatives.* In southern Alberta near Calgary while working on the railroad, Frits Kinna and August Posti discovered that ranchers were selling horses for $50.00. The horses had not been broken in and were of a lighter breed, in other words, riding horses. At the end of June in 1904 (Reference #10) when they left railroad construction, they went looking for horses and from June 1 - 4 "bought horses." F. Kinna recalls that they both bought four horses. They loaded the horses onto a train wagon and set out for Red Deer where the train ride ended. Frits Kinna no longer remembers how they got the untamed horses to Medicine Valley. At home they started "training" the horses. In addition to the time and effort that took, F. Kinna's right thumb was also sacrificed in the process. This required a separate trip to a doctor in Red Deer. He still managed to get himself two teams with which he delivered mail during four years between Red Deer and Eckville, making three trips a week.

August Posti's diary, however, contains an entry for July 5-25: "Training the horses" and on August 23; "Skinned a horse".

Mules were not used in Medicine Valley although Kristjan Kingsep had a mule at the Sylvan Lake settlement.

*Usually $150.00. On March 15, 1914, August Posti paid A. Pihuoja $250.00 for a horse and on March 11, 1913 $300 to P. Perler. A pound of butter at the time cost 20 cents.


From August Posti's diary on November 14, 1914: "There is a sparrow in the family already." Unfortunately, there is no information on magpies as to whether they were here earlier or came later. There are black crows here as a nuisance to farmers. There are no grey crows.


If the first Estonian settlers on the banks of the Medicine River were: "all extremely enthusiastic about their valley," it was undoubtedly due to the fertile soil and geography which felt familiar to those coming from southern Estonia. There were springs when sowing began at the end of March (March 30, 1905) or at the beginning of April (1906). Spring, especially April, was often very cold and there was seldom a spring that did not have snow and several days of cold weather during the first half of May. There was often late frost at the beginning of June and early frost at the end of July which often ruined or spoiled the potato and wheat field crops in the second half of August. There was often snow in September during the middle of wheat threshing; however, the so-called Indian summer in late autumn nearly every year saved the situation. By November one had to deal with real winter weather just about every year. Serious financial losses were mentioned only once by A. Posti in his diary on September 11, 1916.

It seems that the winter and spring of 1920 were catastrophic. In A. Posti's diary we find:

"A strange winter. It started snowing on October 22nd and the snow stayed. It was very cold before Christmas with temperatures dropping to 40 degrees below zero. From what I can recall, it was not as cold after Christmas but there was deep snow on the ground. In March there was widespread influenza. A lot of snow fell in the first half of April. On April 14th there was a seven inch snow fall and two feet of snow on the ground with no melting.

April 25 - Clear and a lot of thaw and water rising on the river

April 29 - there was five feet of water on the ice

April 30 - It was cloudy and snowy all week. No one has any feed left for their herds and the animals are being fed flour. Many of the animals have died. There is still a lot of snow although some hill sides are bare. Spring birds are all out but no sign of spring.


1 - It snowed and cleared up in the evening

2 - It snowed all day... Went to the mill and brought back 2 beavers and a muskrat. (The reference is probably to Mäesep's former mill belonging to Posti)

3 - The ice is going in the river, the water is high, still lots of snow.

5 - Very stifling 12 degrees, a lot melted

6- A lot of melting, the river is very high and carried the bridge away at night."


Early on the Estonians proved to be quite inventive in automating farm work. Hendrik Kingsep was the first to acquire a threshing machine. It was driven by horses (or oxen). This power implement was built by Hendrik Kingsep himself. A similar type of power source was also in widespread use in Estonia. H. Kingsep used this source of power to make roof shingles, saw boards and mill flour on stones. A few years later H. Kingsep acquired a steam powered threshing machine. The wagon with which H.K. in the early years carried mail and goods from Red Deer for the whole Estonian community was home built. The wheels were made of boards cut into a round shape. (Information from Hendrik Kingsep's daughter Emma Lapp)

Mart Sestrap built a small windmill (wooden) on the roof of his blacksmith's shop. He was a good blacksmith and did work for others also. With the windmill he milled flour. (on stones) A few years later the windmill was demolished by a storm. Mart Sestrap did not build a new one since in 1910 J. Mäesep's more modern turbine driven water mill came into operation on the Medicine River. (Told by Mart Sestrap's daughter, Alma Liivam, as related by her mother)


The first turbine driven water mill in Medicine Valley was built by Juhan Mäesep.(See map in Appendix #40). He had worked as a miller in Estonia. A canal of about 400 feet long for the mill was built by the Estonians through volunteer labour using shovels drawn by horses. The cost of building the canal was $500. Mäesep had borrowed the money from August Posti. The canal (still in existence) shortened a long curve on the river and gave a drop of six feet without any need to dam the water in the river. J. Mäesep designed the turbine himself and it was built by J. Vares. The stones for the mill were brought from the USA. The mill started operating in May of 1910. (Reference #11) It was used for coarse milling to make flour for bread, meal for animals and barley. J. Mäesep also used the same power source to saw boards and make shingles. The mill users came from a large area. It came to be used less when Frits Kinna's mill in 1911 and Karl Moro's mill in 1914 came into operation in Eckville. (See map in Appendix #40) The mill and homestead belonged to J. Mäesep until September 28, 1918 when they were auctioned off to pay for a mortgage. They then became the property of August Posti. The mill remained in operation for a few years under the new ownership. J. Mäesep was a giant, 6 foot 4 and a great speaker. He did not farm. He returned to Estonia after the First World War where he continued to build mills according to Karl Posti. K. Pihuoja now farms the quarter that once belonged to J. Mäesep.

The same sort of steam power used for threshing machines was also used for milling. This was the method used by Paul Langer already in 1911 to mill for himself and neighbours. Juhan Kinna also had a stationary steam boiler (upright) as of 1910 which was used for threshing as well as milling. He also did work for others. In this connection Frits Kinna took a course and exams to become a steam boiler operator (engineer) (Explanation by Frits Kinna)

J. Mäesep set up saw mill business and also made roof shingles at his water mill in 1910. (August Posti's diary) During this period Karl Anton also owned a saw mill (chain saw) and made shingles. He stopped operating in 1912 since he left for New Zealand with his whole family. Around 1920 Alek and Oskar Mõttus also owned a saw mill mainly for their own use. This is now owned by Richard Mõttus and still working. (V.M.)

August Moro's story

Since there were rich grasslands and a lot of free land, people kept cattle. Milk, cream or eggs and also meat were sold or exchanged for other goods in farm stores in Gilby and Eckville. Later from1910 onward when there was no longer a herd, livestock was also sold. Gilby was one of the nearest places where livestock was bought. From there the animals were herded by land to the railway station in Lacombe. (26 miles) In old Eckville around 1910 there was a cheese factory where you could sell milk. When the railway reached Eckville (1914)* we started sending cream to Calgary. Game (rabbits and some goats) and birds (partridge, duck and grouse) as well as large fish stocks in the river and the nearby Wood Lake provided a huge supplement to meat. There were great amounts of wild berries (blueberries, bilberries and wild strawberries) and mushrooms. Bread at that time was baked from barley flour.

*Information differs regarding the arrival of the railway. The railway station masters were not able to provide answer for me either. This might be explained by the fact that there were two railways (CPR and Canadian National Railways) (CNR) in Eckville only one mile apart. August Posti wrote in his diary on January 13, 1913 that "Men marking out the direction of the railway went by here" and "Horses were at work on the railway". According to Frits Kinna this occurred in 1912.

Frits Kinna's story

In the Medicine Valley settlement we didn't give specific names to the farms. We used the owner's name and in official correspondence the number of the section and quarter. We did christen our farm as "the Valley Farm" (Oru Talu), but used the name only amongst ourselves.

Frits Kinna was one of the original owners of a water mill with industrial capacity. It was located on his homestead on the Medicine River. (See map in Appendix #40) F.K. put in an application to Ottawa in 1909 to dam water for the mill. The plans for the dam and mill were registered in Ottawa in 1914. F. K. acquired some of the parts for the mill - shaft, bearings, gearwheel etc. (total $130) already on May 9, 1910. The mill started operating in November 1911. (See details in Appendix #41, 41A and 41B)

"From the "Mill Accounts" (Reference #8) it appears that the mill produced: "rye, wheat flour, grouts for porridge, coarse barley, flour (barley flour was made for Finns) coarse oatmeal, and sour oatmeal. Wheat was also cleaned before being milled.

The stones for the mill and silk sieve for flour were brought from the USA. At times in the winter there wasn't enough water. From the names in the "Mill Accounts' most of the mill users were Finns.

Karl Moro's flour mill

(Information from August Moro)

The flour mill set up by Karl Moro at the edge of Eckville went through many stages over the years. In 1914 Karl Moro, along with his sons George and August, bought two acres of land from Kasper on the banks of the Medicine River at the edge of town. The mill was turbine driven and stones were used for the milling. At the beginning the mill produced barley and meal for animals and later sifted flour. The permit for a dam came from Ottawa and an engineer came out to see it. In 1923 a steam driven flour mill was built on the same property by the side of the road. (See two photos) In 1926 Oskar joined the business while George left it. In 1932 the machine was refurbished and the buildings completely renovated. (See photo) In the meantime Karl Moro had moved to Peace River. From that time on the mill belonged to his sons, August and George Moro.

In 1937 and 1938 the Moro's flour mill furnished the town of Eckville with electricity. The equipment for the power station and the electric cables for the whole town were all installed by Frits Kinna. (See Appendix #16) In 1938 the Calgary Power bought the rights from the Moros to furnish Eckville with power. In 1947 the flour mill was sold to the Eckville Co-op. By that time August Moro was the sole owner since Oskar had also moved to Peace River.

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Alberta's Estonian Heritage