Alex Kask

Juhan and Minnie Kask, a pioneer family that lived in Sylvan Lake, Alberta for some ten years but later disbanded throughout North America. Alex Kask emigrated from Estonia in 1900 followed by two of his brothers, John and Anton in 1901, and several friends and relatives. They travelled as far as Red Deer by train and then went by foot to homesteads near Sylvan Lake.

Along with other new settlers, Alex spent the fall, winter, and spring months working in the Red Deer brick yard, in lumber camps, and in coal mines near Blairmore. He returned to his homestead in the summer to clear land and build a home. His first house, made of logs, had a sod roof and dirt floor. In 1905, after building an addition complete with a shingle roof and floorboards, Alex sent for his childhood sweetheart, Anna Opp. The very courageous Anna travelled to Alberta on her own and, on her arrival in Red Deer in 1906, was married to Alex. She gave birth to Victor in 1907 and Elizabeth in 1908.

Two years later, several of the Estonian friends who had come to Alberta with Alex decided to move to Montana to take out homesteads there, in large part because it was on the prairie and so did not have to be cleared. After years of struggling to clear his land near Sylvan Lake and not making much headway, Alex saw this as a great opportunity and moved the family south. However, they found Montana to be a difficult place to live: there were no trees for firewood and there was no water. They stayed through the winter, saw the birth of their son John, and then returned to their Alberta homestead.

Over time, the family cleared and broke more land, acquired cattle, horses, sheep, hogs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. They grew oats, barley, and some rye, which they took to the Eckville mill. Anna spun wool and knit socks and sweaters; Alex built her a loom, which she used to weave cloth and rugs. The Kask homestead was mid-way between Eckville and Red Deer and so became a stop-over place for other Estonian pioneers.

In 1913, Sophie was born. Three years later, she was badly burned on the woodstove, and died in the Red Deer hospital. To help Anna overcome her grief, Alex bought her a player piano, which brought some comfort.

The arrival of the railway brought both labour and a market for the family's produce, thereby helping the family's financial situation. In 1918, the family bought a used 1914 Model T. It did not run well, so a year later the family bought a new 1919 Model T.

In 1920, during the flu epidemic, all of the Kasks were sick for several weeks. Both Anna and Victor died.

Alex continued to expand the farm, with the help of the children. By age 12, Elizabeth had taken over the household chores, and John did various farm chores. Alex was involved in the community, both as an active member of the school board, for which he served as chair for many years, and in helping to form the Sylvan Lake Co-op Store. He helped rebuild Norma School, where both his children attended until Grade 9.

Elizabeth went on to become a teacher and John worked for the Imperial Bank.

Alex died in 1931 and is buried in the Red Deer Cemetery.

Alberta's Estonian Heritage