Mike and Alma Kerbes

Mike and Alma Kerbes pose for a photo on their wedding day in the Stettler, Alberta area in 1926. The Kerbes clan is one of the largest in Alberta. In 1884, Mihkel and Lissu (née Walli) Kerbes left Estonia for Russia. They had eight children: Ann (1860), Peter (1864), Thomas (1867), Liisu (1870), Mari (1872), Jaan (1875), Jurri (1877, died 1879) and Johannes (1880).

The first of the family to come to Canada were Johannes and Mari (along with her husband). They arrived in Halifax in1903. Johannes made his way to Sylvan Lake. The following spring he took out a homestead in the Linda Hall area. In 1909, he married Sophie Wartnow. Their children are Julia (married Dick Hennel), Alexander (Hazel), Archie (Rosella), and Hilda (Chummy Dancocks). In 1911, when Linda Hall was built, Johannes donated a portion of his land for the hall.

Sophie died in 1918. Two years later, Johannes married her sister Minnie. Together, they had five children: Helen (Pat Mulligan), Ernie (Irene), Marjorie (Bill Olive), Geneva (Don Parker), and Jim (Helen).

Mari and her husband, Joseph Hennel, who had come to Canada with Johannes, also took out a homestead in the Linda Hall area. Their children are Elizabeth, Kristoff, Martin, Alexander, William, and Rosetta.

In 1910, Lissu Kerbes, who was now a widow, emigrated from Russia with Jaan, his wife Annette (née Hansman), and their three children. The six of them lived for the first year with Johannes and Sophie.

Jaan found work at a lumber mill in Red Deer and on the Stettler water tower; he was also hard at work building his log home northwest of Big Valley. He and his wife had six children: John, Elizabeth, Rosanta, Elvine, Albert, and Elmer.

Thomas Kerbes and his wife Marl (née Hennel) remained in Russia, but their daughter Alide, her husband, Martin Koppelmick, and their daughter Marl, came to Alberta. They operated the Stettler hospital laundry for many years. Marl died in 1965 and Alide in 1997.

In 1911, Peter Kerbes, his wife Julia, and their children arrived. Like his brother Jaan and their mother, they lived with Johannes and Sophie in their small home until the next year, when Peter took out a homestead west of Big Valley. Peter moved the family into a tent while he built their log home. Peter and Julia had ten children (all but the last born in Estonia): Lisa (Nick Laas), Ida (Mike Yurman), Juhan (died in Russia), Mihkel (Alma), Marie (Walt Story), August (Lilly), Martha (Jim Robb), Johanna (Dick Howe), Eduart (Gladys), and Carl (Ruth). Peter died in 1930 and Julia in 1950.

Peter's eldest son Mihkel (Mike), age 13 when the family immigrated, went to work in lumber camps and mines in Idaho and Montana to help support the family. In 1926, he married Alma Clark, a local school teacher. They lived in his parents' house and soon began to have children, starting with Kenneth (later married to Hazel), Constance, and Melvin, all born at home with Julia's help. When the house became too crowded, Mike's parents and two youngest brothers moved to a house on another parcel of land. Alma had several more children: Deane (Irene), June (Bob Ekelund), Ronald, Kathleen (Ed Jackson), Leila (Bob Stanich), Donna (Ron Sommerfeld), Margaret (John Pelto), and Eldon (Donna) and Beverly. Constance, Melvin, and Ronald died when they were very young.

To supplement the family income, Mike drove a cream truck for the Alix Creamery, and worked on road construction and as a trapper. Despite difficult economic times, the Kerbes home opened its doors to community and family events, including church services and parties at which guests took part in Estonian singing and dancing.

Mike constructed a stock-watering pond (with permission from the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation assistance program and the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Association); in 1961, the pond, stocked with rainbow trout, was named the Kerbes Pond.

The family ate what they produced and harvested - poultry, eggs, beef, pork, vegetables, wild game, fish from the river, and wild berries - and Mike shared his love of such Estonian treats as barley sausage, herring, sauerkraut, sourdough rye bread, cabbage rolls, and headcheese.

Mike died in 1968. Alma, along with Deane and his wife Irene, continued to operate the farm until 1973. Alma died in 2003, at the age of 101.

Alberta's Estonian Heritage