Memories of Liisa Silbermann

Family Heritage

Grandma was born in Crimea in an Estonian speaking village and home. She had eight sisters and brothers. Her parents were about 10 years old when they made the trek from Estonia to Crimea with about 70 other families. They had been serfs working under German landlords in a country that was overcome and governed alternately by Russia, Germany, and Sweden over the centuries. The Czar had declared that serfs could achieve freedom. One of their members read in the papers an ad for homesteaders in Crimea after the Crimean war had vacated the farms. A whole village with its horses, shoemaker, and other skilled persons moved. The Crimean years were happy years. The family took pride in farming their own land without landlords and grew all sorts of things that did not grow in the north: apricots, and watermelons to name two. As Grandma's sisters and brothers approached maturity it became clear that there would not be enough land to divide into eight so that each could have a farm of their own as their parents were now enjoying. Also there was compulsory conscription for boys of a certain age. Grandma's mother (Marie Erdman) said none of her boys would be serving in the Russian army. And plans began to be made to emmigrate to North America. They sold the rich and beautiful farm in Crimea and came by ship (third class) to New York and by train to North Dakota where they farmed for almost two years. The oldest of the family stayed behind in Crimea as she had already married. Grandmas father searched for a homestead and found one in Barons, went back to Dakota to get the rest of the family, and so life began in Barons, Alberta, Canada. Grandma by this time was close to twenty years old and went to Lethbridge to work in peoples homes. She heard that pay was better in Medicine Hat and there was a group of Estonian young people there so she found work in Medicine Hat.

In the mean time Martin Silbermann had come from Estonia and the two met at the Estonian young people's group in Medicine Hat. They were married on the Jacob and Marie Erdman homestead in Barons. The Lutheran minister came from Medicine Hat to perform the marriage. (He was also from Estonia and served Estonian families in Southern Alberta by performing baptisms , weddings and funerals for them).

Grandma and Grandpa purchased a homestead in the Barons area and Grandma says "Then the work began". They harvested prairie wool for their first cash crop which they sold in Lethbridge. The homestead house was where Mom was born in 1908. The next year a bigger house was built from wood brought from the mountains. This is where the twin boys were born in 1909.

Memorable Events and Occasions

Grandma read every essay and poem I wrote. I felt she knew me and how I thought better than anyone else did. She always had a project on the go whether it was cooking -(cabbage rolls, soup, pie, crepes, meat pockets, rosa mana etc) or gardening (vegetables, flowers, trees, lawns) reading (English and Estonian books and papers), handicraft (knitting, crocheting, rug hooking, mending) writing stories and poems, or painting pictures. She prepared my 13th birthday party, and attended all my special events as I grew up (graduations, Gold Cord Ceremonies, confirmation, concerts, and community events I was involved in).

Grandma took over raising three kids when she was over 60 years old. She was always organized and capable of the challenge. She enjoyed Martha's wedding and celebrating her 90th birthday. She was thrilled to see her namesake Liisa in the spring of 1975 when Liisa Gue was 3 months old and Liisa Silberman was 93 years old.

Faith and Beliefs

Attended Lutheran Young peoples group in Medicine Hat (1905). Married by Lutheran Minister(1907). Joined the United Church in Barons. Her children were confirmed in the Lutheran church in Estonia. She viewed the different denominations as watching the same play from different parts of the theatre. God was the same; what people saw and their interpretations were different. She had a personal faith and she had no patience for evangelistic missionaries.


On the farm she had "pinks", iris, tulips, delphiniums ,current and chokecherry bushes and wild plums. Hedges were clipped and the patch of prairie grass was cut. Camomile grew everywhere and us kids would pick the daisy-like flowers for a cup of warm sweet "tea flower tea" which still today is a core symbol of comfort and caring. There always was a huge garden on the farm until they left the farm in 1948. Then for the next ten years she planted one in the town of Barons which she looked after with the help of Lillian, Albert and Martha. Even in California when she lived in Sacramento with Ernie and his family, Grandma's green thumb got to work.

She worked at all levels of the food process: production, processing, preserving, storage, preparation and service. She was mother, farmer, housekeeper, cook, gardener, grandmother, creator of beautiful and utilitarian things (living room rug, mittens, scarves, table cloths, clothes). She was always neat, faithful and uncomplaining. She always rested in the afternoon (after rising at 6 am) and went to bed at 8 pm. She was very regular in her habits.

Interests and Hobbies

Reading, knitting, crocheting, painting, poetry, writing stories (in Estonian and English) keeping in touch with family, gardening.

Lillian gave her a paint set when she was 80 and she worked for ten years with oils quite happily. Then she said the pile was getting too high and she quit.

Lillian was getting large print novels from the Calgary library until the week before she died at the age of 93. She preferred fiction with a bit of history to it.

In the 1940's we would each get a pair of hand knit mittens with fancy snowflake patterns. She hand knotted a 12 ft. by 12 ft. carpet in dark green with floral pattern. It took a year to make.


Many accomplishments are listed under work and interests. Raising two families, fluent in three languages, staying healthy, staying cheerful and steady all her life, and remaining faithful to her family are accomplishments we most valued. She attended school three years in Crimea. The language of instruction was Russian. She said she was a graduate of the University of Hard Knocks. Though she didn't use Russian after she left Crimea the poetry she memorised as a school girl came back to her in her 90's.

Character and Traits

Strong willed, sensitive, enjoyed a party, enjoyed family, responsible, prayerful, independent pioneer spirit, rather refined, forthright, no nonsense, a bit too quick with opinion if she didn't approve, neat about clothing but not extravagant, proud of her offspring, compatible with her husband (able to tone him down when he got argumentative). She had no really close women friends with whom she could share daily experiences. She viewed people as either strangers or relatives. She viewed food, soil, family as sacred yet did not verbalize that. Just lived it.

Social Contributions

Grandma supported the Barons United Church, Naramata Center, Girl Guides (10 years on the parent's committee). She supported her children and grandchildren in their accomplishments and enjoyed being with them. As a parent substitute for Lillian, Albert and Martha she had the gift of keeping the household in perfect control without saying a thing. We did everything we could to help with chores. Piano practice, homework, etc. were our own responsibility. There were no reminders. We were quite a team!

She took her responsibilities to her immediate family and her extended family seriously and as a profession of faith and vocation.
Martha Munz Gue

Thoughts on Death

Why do we grieve a man's death?

He is part of our picture
His presence missed as though an errant
splash of paint blotted his face from among the others.

It no longer seems the same for us without him?
Something is missing in the calm order of our world?

Or do we weep for Sorrow's sake,
Reveling in the exploit of finer sense. Sorrow, our master, our idol,
We bow our heavy hearts upon thy altar.

Lillian is pictured with her painting of a Barons landscape showing grain elevators in the background. Or do we grieve because he will no more feel the sun rise over whispering wheat fields tremble at the subtle whiteness of a hail cloud looming in the July sky,thrill as harvest hums around him stoop with steaming pails of milk in the twilight chores, and feel the warm comfort of winter's lingering days, only to long for the throb of spring which ushers in another cycle - wheat to earth and back to wheat again.

Or do we grieve?

God, who welcomes as we bid farewell,
Cleanse the hearts of weeping hypocrites.

Lillian Munz

Alberta's Estonian Heritage