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65th Reunion

November 30th, 2013

Memories - To live in the hearts of those we leave behind - is not to die.
Thomas Campbell, Hallowed Ground 

The passenger 65th reunion was held this time in two parts.  Many passengers had now taken up residency in a retirement home and found it difficult to join the larger group on November 30th. 

The entire retirement home was invited to view the film "Destiny of a Tiny Ship" on November 15th.  Passengers gathered and shared their recollections with the rest of the residents.  Harry Õunpuu was the one who built the toilets on the ship.  He recalls measuring the opening for the seat with his head.  Güri Raag shared his written account of the voyage which may be read in Estonian here and also translated into English here.  An Estonian newspaper accounting of the reunion may be read here.

Below:  Walnut passengers gather at Ehatare retirement home in November 2013, to celebrate 65 years in Canada.

Walnut passengers Ehatare

An Estonian newspaper accounting of the reunion events may be viewed here (in Estonian).

Below:  Tiiu Roiser's partital speech as host for the evening.

Tere tulemast kõigile!
A warm welcome to everyone! 

It is hard to image that it has been 65 years since the tiny Walnut sailed into Halifax with her human cargo.  A ship filled with anxious and hopeful hearts – ready to begin a new life in Canada.   I welcome today the passengers, their spouses, family members and guests.   I’m so glad to see what a wonderful turnout we’ve had to this reunion.

Since we have so many guests who do not speak Estonian, and all the rest of us are bilingual, most of tonight’s program will be in English.  When we share our memories, feel free to speak in whichever language you wish.

We thank Pastor Jüri Puusaag for bringing us greetings.  We are very glad he was able to join us tonight.  Thank you Lynda Männik, for enlightening us about your PhD work and your completed book.   I’m very much looking forward to your presentation.

At this time, I’d like to commemorate those passengers who are no longer with us.  To commemorate, literally means “to remember together”, to remember something that we have in common.  Many lifelong friendships and acquaintances were made on board the Walnut.  Let us all stand and remember those passengers who have departed from this life and have been called to their eternal home.

Don’t think of them as gone away, their journey’s just begun
Life holds so many facets, this earth is only one.
Just think of them as resting, from their sorrows and their tears
In a place of warmth and comfort, to where there are no days nor years.
 - Ellen Brenneman

Time cannot steal the treasures, that we carry in our hearts.
Nor ever dim the shining thoughts, our cherished past imparts.
For the memories of the ones we loved, still cast a gentle glow,
To grace our days and light our paths, wherever we may go.
- Author unknown

I am pleased to bring you greetings from the passengers who currently reside at Ehatare Retirement Home and could not be with us.  On November 15th, we had a screening of the short film we will see here later.  Coffee and cream puffs were served and passengers shared their memories of the voyage with the other residents.  I’ll share some new things I learned from them later in the program.

We are about to watch a short film entitled “Destiny of a Tiny Ship”.  Let me tell you about the making of this short film.  It is available on the internet at our Walnut website and on YouTube.  One person at Ehatare commented that there weren’t enough pictures of the ship or the interior.  I think she was expecting a full, modern documentary made with a film crew.  This is not what this film is.  It’s a compilation of materials and stories supplied by you the passengers.  We simply don't have many pictures of the interior.

It all began with the Walnut website that was created in March 2009.  The idea of a website began at our last 60th reunion where the consensus was, that all the passenger stories, photographs and memories should be collected and stored in one central location.  I took on that challenge and we now have the website with materials that you have all shared.  It’s turned out to be quite a large collection.  I’ve received written permission from newspapers to post their articles, uploaded donated images from all of you, posted permissible immigration statistics, and more.  I’ve video taped some of the passengers and have recorded many voyage stories.

Right:  Tiiu Roiser with flowers thanking her for organizing the reunion.

Tiiu Roiser

The website has connected me with people from all over the world who have been touched by your story. The daughter of one of the ministers who blessed the ship in Ireland, just recently found her deceased father’s memoirs and sent me his written recollections of the event. One man wrote to me to tell me that he’d finally put together what exactly it was that he climbed on in Sligo as a child. For years, on walks with his father, he’d seen a rusting round drum on the pier at Sligo. After seeing images on our website he’d recognized it as a discarded Walnut lifeboat.  

If any of you have any more information to add, we would be happy to expand the collection.

We now get to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier21.  This is the pier through which the Walnut and more than one million immigrants arrived in Canada between 1928 and 1971.  As the museum’s website states:  “A million souls passed through Pier 21, and even though we don’t know all of their names or stories, they all left an impression.  They were absorbed into the walls and floors that echo today with the footfalls of their descendants.”

Pier21 Museum has singled out the Walnut’s voyage and has a prominent display about the ship’s arrival since it is considered an excellent representation of the “little boats” that arrived in Halifax during 1948 and 1949.  The arrival of the boats during this time provoked a reaction in the public mind that is illustrative of the times, and contributed a permanent, humanitarian change in Canada’s immigration policy.  The Walnut has the largest paper trail and was the largest single crossing of Baltic refugees.

Introducing the Film

Our Walnut website is listed as a link and is a part of their research materials.  As of the beginning of this week, the website has had more than four thousand unique visitors and has been visited close to eight thousand times by people from around the world.

The film was made to assist students in their research and to address the question as to why the Walnut passengers undertook such a dangerous journey. There was no film crew aboard the ship and no digital cameras.  What we have are the images captured during a time of escape, aboard a boat filled with terrified passengers and hopeful hearts. The film is an amateur’s attempt to educate those wishing to know about the voyage. 

Ehatare Retirement home

An interesting viewpoint that came to light at the Ehatare reunion gathering, was one brought up by another resident who asked:  "Why did you make this dangerous voyage, when there were opportunities to travel with large, comfortable ships?"  She had come to Canada aboard a luxury liner.  My mother states that by the time she came to Toronto, other Estonians had already arrived and were walking down the street to greet her.

Passenger Güri Raag shared his viewpoint at Ehatare with us. He points out the following reasons for the Walnut voyage: 

1. Traveling on a passenger ship required that one have a VISA, immigration papers and the equivalent of $2000 US dollars or a one-year work contract. The Canadian government was not conducive to immigration at the time. 

2. Two years prior to the Walnut voyage, Sweden had returned to the Soviet Union 167 Baltic soldiers, amongst whom were many Estonians. In the Walnut passenger group, there were many previous soldiers and the fear was that their fate would be the same. 

3. The majority of Baltic refugees arriving in Sweden in 1944, including Estonians, were officially registered as citizens of the Soviet Union. The situation could have become dangerous if the Soviet Union started to demand their citizens back. 

Güri recalled being questioned by an immigration official in an unusual fashion.  The ship’s doctor, Güri and his wife were invited to the official’s home.  They were offered drinks and dinner.  The immigration official was interested as to exactly why they left Sweden, and questioned them about life under the Communist regime.  After coffee, the host called a taxi for the group.  Their taxi trip took them past a jail house and the nervous group expected that is where they were being taken.  This, of course, didn’t happen and they were soon back “home” in Rockhead hospital feeling secure. 

Steven Schwinghamer is the historian at the Pier21 museum.  He once met a visitor who asked why these people fled from the Soviet forces.  He insisted that they had nothing to fear from the peaceful Soviet republic. In response, Schwinghamer cited religious persecution, disenfranchisement, the stripping of property, deportation to Siberia, and outright execution.  These were reasons enough. 

Hari Õunpuu, now also living at Ehatare, recalled how he built the washrooms on the ship.  He didn’t have anything to measure the opening of the toilet with, so he used his head.  Literally. 

Excerpts read from Pastor Browne's recollections shared by Heather and Joan Browne from Ireland

Lynda Männik's Book Presentation

Thank you's

I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the success of this evening. Thank you Pastor Puusaag for being with us. Thank you to Lynda Männik for her enlightening presentation & book lottery.  I thank Tiiu Männamaa and her crew for our dinner this evening.  Thank you to St. Peter’s Ladies Guild and Lehta Greenbaum for allowing us the use of their tablecloths. I’m happy to thank Erik Purje for coming to cover our event and for Vivi Kivi and Ivi Saumets for helping at the registration table. Thank you to my son Kevin and husband Nick for all of their hard work. 

And finally, I thank our two anonymous donors who financially supported this event by providing for us the advertising, hall rental, decorations and dessert table.  Thank you all for coming. 

Our official program will end with the singing of the final unison song, but feel free to mingle, have more coffee and catch up with other passengers for as long as you wish. 

Below left:  A group photo was taken with all attending Walnut passengers.
Right:  All in attendance - Passengers with family members and guests.

The following photographs were donated by Walnut passengers and/or their families.   All images on this page are used with permission and are Copyrighted by the image providers.  All rights reserved.    

Thank you to all the individuals who have graciously allowed us to post their images.   A list of contributors appears on the resources page.   If you are a passenger, please help with the captions.   Names will only be posted with the permission of the subject depicted or if the name has already appeared in a published article.  Passenger names are identified in bold.

The song Ta lendab Mesipuu poole is one of the greatest songs sung at Estonian Song Festivals and a favourite amongst Estonians.  We chose to end our Walnut 65th Reunion with words sung by hundreds of thousands of Estonians in memory of their homeland.  The song is about trying to get back to your roots.

Ta Lendab Mesipuu Poole 

Words:   Juhan Liiv
Music:  Miina Härma, Riho Päts, Juhan Simm, and Peep Sarapik.

Ta lendab mesipuu poole 

Ta lendab lillest lillesse, 
ja lendab mesipuu poole; 
ja tõuseb kõuepilv ülesse
ta lendab mesipuu poole. 

Ja langevad teele tuhanded;
veel koju jõuavad tuhanded
ja viivad vaeva ja hoole 
ja lendavad mesipuu poole! 

Hing, oh hing, sa raskel a'al
kuis õhkad isamaa poole;
kas kodu sa, kas võõral maal 
kuis ihkad isamaa poole! 

Ja puhugu vastu sul' surmatuul 
ja lennaku vastu sul' surmakuul: 
sa unustad surma ja hoole
ning tõttad isamaa poole! 

Hing, oh hing, sa raskel a'al
kuis õhkad isamaa poole; 
kas kodu sa, kas võõral maal
kuis ihkad isamaa poole! 

Kuis ihkad isamaa poole! 

He flies toward the beehive

He flies from flower to flower,
and flies toward the beehive;
And a thundercloud rises to the sky,
he flies toward the beehive. 

And thousands fall upon the road; 
Still thousands reach their home
 and remove worry and care
and fly toward the beehive. 

Soul, oh soul, at difficult times
how you long for the fatherland.
If at home, if on foreign soil – 
how you long for the fatherland! 

And if the winds of death blow against you,
and if bullets of death fly against you,
ou forget death and care, 
and hurry toward the fatherland.

Soul, oh soul, at difficult times
how you long for the fatherland.
If at home, if on foreign soil
how you long for the fatherland! 

How you long for the fatherland! 

English translation adapted from multiple internet sources.

Watch on YouTube (3:47 min)

Sung at the 2009 Estonian Song Festival (in Estonian: laulupidu).  The song festival is one of the largest amateur choral events in the world, a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.  It is held every five years in July on the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds (Lauluväljak) simultaneously with the Estonian Dance Festival.  The joint choir has comprised more than 30,000 singers coming together from all over the world.

Do you have any photographs of the 65th reunion?  
Please contact us to donate them to our site.