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Jaanipäev in Alberta – PHOTO GALLERY

2012 was once again the year to celebrate Jaanipäev in Alberta. The Alberta Estonian Heritage Society organized the event focusing on the bonfire (ancient Estonian tradition), on the Gilby location (one of areas originally settled by Estonian homesteaders at the beginning of the 20th Century), on the pioneer games (Alberta Estonian pioneer tradition) and on Ööbik (Estonian choir from Ontario).

The day before Jaanipäev, folks gathered by the waters of Sylvan Lake where all were cordially greeted by the mayor of the Town of Sylvan Lake.
Featured performers, the Ööbik Choir presents a full-throated rendition of Tuljak / Wedding Dance, Rosemarie Lindau conducting. Photo: J Laansoo
Susan Samson was well aware that this was the area where the first recorded Estonian pioneers in Canada settled in 1899. Her welcoming speech received heartfelt applause by 30 members of the Ööbik choir who had travelled from Ontario to celebrate Jaanipäev out West. In turn, she was presented a copy of the DVD Alberta’s Estonians for the town’s public library and archives.

Later that afternoon, Alberta Estonian Heritage Society president Bob Kingsep, wearing a white shirt with blue and black on the shoulders, adopted the bearing of ship’s captain as he collected tickets for the 2 hour private cruise on Sylvan Lake. Albertans mingled with choristers and all 80 had a good time becoming acquainted.

Jaanipäev activities began next day, June 23, at Gilby Hall, approximately 30 minutes drive northwest from Sylvan Lake in central Alberta. Also historical terrain for Alberta Estonians, this district has descendants of Estonian pioneers currently farming on land originally homesteaded by their forefathers over 100 years ago. Volunteers set attractive tables inside the hall while others barbequed smokies sausages for lunch on the outdoor patio. A few very kind farmers living in the area offered horse wagon and mule wagon rides, a most appreciated highlight of the activities, arranged by Jim Laughton. There was a bus tour of near-by Estonian-related locations, including two historical cemeteries. The 160 Jaanipäev participants could also view six panels and nine photos depicting the story of Estonians in Alberta, fresh from their three month display at the Provincial Archives of Alberta in Edmonton. Copies of the book Freedom, Land & Legacy: Alberta’s Estonians 1899-2009, the DVD Alberta’s Estonians and the AEHS magazine AjaKaja were available for purchase.

This year’s Jaanipäev celebrants came from Saskatchewan, Ontario, Estonia, USA, New Zealand and of course, from many parts of Alberta. As commented by many, there was much friendly meeting and chatting throughout the afternoon, with various individuals becoming more aware of their Estonian roots, often while enjoying coffee and the seven kringels home baked by Pärja Tiislar.

Everyone enjoyed the pioneer games, including the log sawing. For our out-of-province visitors, these are refreshingly unique. Jim Curtis of Edmonton and Gloria Hennel of northern Alberta pounded their way to championships in the nail pounding event. Jim’s son Gavin was the best nail pounder among the children’s group. The “Queen of 4:00 AM” contest garnered interest from all ages. This is where the ladies toss a rolling pin at a stuffed figure of a man whose early morning activities are presumed to be in question. The final round resulted in a tie with Tiina Coverdale and Eda Oja, both Ööbik Choir members, strutting off with victorious crowns.

As part of the program, Dana Kreil, counselor, representing Lacombe County, and Helen Posti, Mayor of Eckville formally greeted the gathering on Saturday. Each was presented with a copy of the DVD Alberta’s Estonians for the archive and library in their jurisdiction.

Bob Kingsep made valiant efforts to properly pronounce the name of the guest choir in advance of his duties as master of ceremonies. To not much avail. Then in a chance conversation with Peter Leesment, they hit upon the solution. Anytime Bob needed to use the word “Ööbik”, he would instead point towards Peter who would stand up and say the word for him, then immediately sit down again and Bob would continue with his commentary until the next time he needed to use the choir name. So it went. Peter resembled a Jack-in-the-Box, popping up and down during the opening ceremony, much to the delight of all those present. Bob explained his predicament by stating tongue-in-cheek “They voted me for AEHS president before they found out I cannot speak Estonian”.

The Ööbik Choir (name translation – Nightingale), presented a much anticipated afternoon concert of songs in English, Estonian and some mixed, directed by Rosemarie Lindau, accompanied by Charles Kipper on an electronic keyboard. Solos, duets and trios rounded out the wonderful program which included such recognized tunes as Four Strong Winds, Rahu/Peace, Kaugel Kaugel/Red River Valley, Dancing Queen and Tuljak/Wedding Dance. We also heard Mats Alati on Tubli Mees, a kind of protest song reflecting 19th century relations between Estonian serfs and their Baltic-German landowner masters. It is particularly relevant to Albertans as many are descendants of Estonian serfs who left their homes some 150 years ago in order to get away from the type of unkind masters depicted in this song. Overall, the musical selections reflected a warm effort to focus on Canada and Alberta in particular. During Alberta Bound, the choir even wove the word “Gilby” into the lyrics.

After the bison dinner provided by a caterer, celebrants could dance to the Triple Nickle band led by Garry Raabis and gather around the largest Jaanipäev bonfire yet seen in Alberta. Logs had been gathered, piled very high and dried for a year. There was singing and reminiscing around it.

AEHS members reminisced of Allan Posti who passed away last December. He was to be our local contact for the 2012 Jaanipäev gathering. The entire board and Jaanipäev organizing committee miss Allan as he was a thoughtful and gentle soul, a quiet leader and integral contributor to all Estonian related events by the AEHS.

Alberta Jaanipäev 2012 director Eda McClung, was assisted by Toomas Pääsuke, Bob & Annette Kingsep, Enn & Pärja Tiislar, Rein & Jan Pääsuke, Dave Kiil, Lorne Hennel, Christine & David Robertson, Arnold Mottus, Bob Tipman, Lisa Kiil, Arne Matiisen, Janet Matiisen, Ingrid Kiil, Peter & Helgi Leesment, Otto Nicklom, Jim Laughton and others. August Liivam, chairman of the Gilby Hall Board and descendant of Estonian pioneers, took charge of the Jaanipäev bonfire. On behalf of the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society, organizers of Alberta Jaanipäev also extend a sincere thank you to the Estonian Foundation of Canada for their financial support of the highly successful midsummer celebration at Gilby Hall.

Thanks to volunteer efforts by the above named plus others, Midsummer, the longest daylight day of the year, once again brought together people of a common interest and accorded this ancient event its traditional due.

The next Alberta Jaanipäev is scheduled to be held in two years’ time, June 2014.

Helgi Leesment

Photo gallery– Photos by Jüri Laansoo, Rein Pääsuke, Jüri Kraav, Barb Gullickson, Helgi Leesment

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