November 24th, 2018
hard to image that it is now 70 years since the Walnut's voyage changed
the destiny of its many passengers.
November 24th, 2018, passengers gathered at a private home to celebrate
the voyage. There were noticeably fewer attendees and included
mostly those that had been children on the boat. Many other original
passengers were unable to attend due to their advanced age or ailing
health. Others in attendance were the children and grandchildren
passengers: Left - Vivi Kivi (Laaneorg) and Ivi Saumets -
Going up the staircase: 1st row: Asta Piil, Milvi
Jeeger (Silm), Tiiu Ester, and Heljo Puldre.
2nd row: Hans Leppik and Jaanus Leppik.
3rd row: Toivo Madrus and Uno Abe.
Top row: Tõnu Lind and Raivo Laaneorg.
get-together began with the lighting of a memorial candle for all Walnut
passengers that are no longer with us and a moment
meaning of the memorial candle and plate....
folklore states that every year there is a period of time when the
souls of the dead move about and visit their former homes. The
exact time period is rather vague, but it is thought to occur in the
fall during important feast days, typically beginning with September
29th (Michaelmas - Mihklipäev), November 10th (Martinmas - Mardipäev)
November 25th (St. Catherin's Day - Kardipäev) and Christmas.
this time, it was traditional to light candles on the graves or window
sills of deceased family members. Plates of food for the visiting
souls were placed in the sauna (accompanied by a bath whisk and a piece
of soap) or on the dinner table.
the reasons for leaving the food back then was to ward off any possible
bad luck from displeased souls, many Estonian families now set an
extra place at their festive dinner tables to honour those that
have passed - now as a loving memorial.
for the meal was sung by way of song:
keep you safe,
and bless you now
His face, shineth upon you.
Lord keep you safe,
and bless you now,
be merciful to you.
May He protect you
from all evil things.
Your soul He keepeth safe.
His peace and guiding love
may always be with you.
Kivi and Pia Machado (daughter of passenger Fredrich Heinsar).
traditional hot and cold Estonian buffet was served.
Alers (daughter of passenger Koidula Roiser), Tiiu Ester and Milvi Jeeger.
slide show of previous reunion images was running in the dining room and
guests could watch the video about the Walnut story in the family
rest of the afternoon was spent reminiscing about voyage
experiences. A slide show was presented by Tiiu Roiser showing
scenes of Halifax harbour at the time the Walnut arrived versus how the
Pier 21 museum and harbour look currently.
Halifax Harbour Image 1 (Images courtesy of Tiiu Roiser)
on a recent cruise to Halifax, the following images represent what the
approach to Halifax harbour looks like currently (2016) but the land
masses and topography would have been what passengers on board the
Walnut would have seen as they approached their final destination.
Halifax Harbour Image 2
Halifax Harbour Image 3
Pier 21 can be seen as the red brick building
facing the waterway. The blue structure in front of the building is
a gangplank walkway used by disembarking current cruise ship passengers.
Halifax Harbour Image 4
1948, instead of the current white and blue Pier 21 sign, "Welcome
Home to Canada" would have been the Walnut passengers' first view of the Pier.
modern new cruise ship docked exactly where the Walnut would have been
pier and docks as they looked in 1943. By National Harbours Board - OnSiteReview, Public Domain,
the national museum - The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 -
gateway hall as it looks inside the museum in 2016.
Sitting on the bench is Kevin Chorowiec, the grandson of passengers
Edward and Koidula Roiser.
passengers (Herbert Madrus at right) standing in the same hall in 1948
gazing through grills which
are now windows.
plaque in the hallway reads as follows:
- Between 1928 and 1971, almost one million immigrants entered Canada
through these doors. This deck marked the end of their
transatlantic journey and the beginning of their new lives in
Canada. But first, they had to pass through a series of admission
leaving the deck, newcomers waited in the assembly hall for their
interview with an immigration officer. Some also received medical
care while others were detained. Immigrants finally had to pass
through customs before leaving Pier 21."
model of the Halifax Ocean Terminal immigration facility sheds no. 21
Photographed at Pier 21 museum.
Passengers at the
reunion recalled moving from room to room.
series of railroad tracks were just outside the doors of the pier,
awaiting to take new Canadians to their new homes.
small reproduction within the museum of the holding area where
disembarking passengers were lead.
any of the passengers remember having their paperwork reviewed in this
Chris Lund/National Film Board of Canada (Crown Copyright) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
voyage of the Walnut is included in a number of museum displays:
wood model display illustrates how small the arriving
Walnut ship was.
plaque reads: "Model of the refugee ship Walnut. One of
the smallest ships to come to Pier 21 was the 50-metre Walnut, a converted
minesweeper that brought 347 Baltic refugees from Sweden in 1948.
1:192 Scale Model, made by Fred Bustard.
wall display entitled Accommodation and Detention - "Excitement,
apprehension and fear were the constant companions of some
newcomers. Until you received an official 'Landed Immigrant'
stamp, you could still be denied. Most immigrants had no problems,
but some were held back until health issues were resolved or proof of
sponsorship or employment was provided." Note the background
image for the display as well as many images of Walnut passengers.
passengers Manfred Kalm and Manivald Sein are featured in the image at
the right sitting on the bed. Nelly Hubel can be seen in the food
Captain Linde (right) in the hall gazing at Halifax harbour. This
original image is being used at the backdrop for the Accommodate and
Detention wall display.
Walnut-related display is entitled "What would you do?"
Visitors are placed in charge of the fate of a group of refugees that have
come to Canada to claim asylum. The interactive display gives
background information in the form of newspaper articles and asks visitors
to decide if you would let them in. Walnut
passengers Asta Piil and Hilja Kuutma are featured.
large display cases highlight artifacts from passenger journeys.
Included is a photo album from a Walnut passenger and a birthday card
from the passengers to immigration officer H. Wade.
of museum facing city of Halifax.
plaque in front of the Pier 21 Museum reads:
the decade immediate following the Second World War, Canada received
about one and a quarter million immigrants from Europe. The
newcomers consisted of dependents of returning Canadian servicemen and
people dislocated by the conflict and its aftermath in their
homelands. Most of them arrived by sea, with Halifax serving as
the major port of entry. Here, at Pier 21, reception facilities
served the immigrants as the first point of contact with their new
country. The successful integration of these new Canadians was at
once a cause and a consequence of Canada's postwar prosperity."
from Piers 19 to 23 you will now find artisans, retailers, cruise
terminals, event facilities, cafes, offices, the Pier 21 museum, a
university and the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market. The district's
redevelopment is now a popular destination for locals and visitors.
Roiser handing over Walnut Minute Book to Pier 21 museum
Read more about the 2016 trip to Halifax here.
an "open mic" period, several passengers shared stories and
recollections. Thoughts from Walnut Passenger John Leppik:
getting ready for this diminishing gathering, I have had many thoughts,
some of which I would like to share - particularly with those here who
were not on the Walnut voyage.
wonder if we have anyone here today who themselves made the decision to
buy a ticket for a trip from Sweden to Canada aboard a leftover coastal
minesweeper built for a crew of 18 to cross the stormy fall North
Atlantic with some 360 people for Quebec City, Canada. I believe
that was our original goal.
had to leave in a hurry as Russia now considered us to be Russians and
they demanded that our departure from Sweden be stopped. It was
known by then that any escapees returned to Russia were butchered.
Latvians had preceded us to Sweden and the Russians had influence with
the Swedish royal family. When Sweden agreed to returns of Latvian
soldiers, some preferred suicide. There were pictures of Swedish
police dragging arrested Latvians.
got us Estonians and Swedish people excited, concerned and active.
Plans for departure were made in a panic. When Russia demanded
that our departure be stopped, the Swedes took a high risk in telling
us, ready or not, now is the time to go. They allowed us to slip
out at night, slow speed, all lights out, no talking. We were
headed out to the North Sea, a refueling in Ireland and across a very
stormy North Atlantic for Canada.
Irish were generous and helpful. In leaving Ireland, the Irish
shared their best wishes for a successful crossing and gave us crates of
oranges for a safe and pleasant crossing. We had no space anywhere
for the crates so they were stacked around the smoke stack.
soon became a favourite place for us kids. I was ten at the
time. Sitting on the orange crates, our backs against the warm
stack, we teased the seagulls by throwing orange peelings.
did not last long, as the winds picked up and the waves started crashing
over the bow. We had to time our passages on deck as quick dashes
between deluges that might wash one overboard.
night the crashing waves broke up the extra structures for the extra
coal that was thought to be necessary for the Atlantic crossing.
was too bad, but there was no turning back. We went in huge leaps,
not being able to see the horizon when in wave troughs and hoping that
we would not tip over when the waves peaked while worrying about Russian
submarines. My mother was desperately seasick for the whole trip.
storm got very serious. The waves broke off a latch on a coal
loading door. Water kept rushing in with no way to stop it.
At an earlier session, we heard about this. What to do? If
it reached the furnace doors, we would explode. Finally an
idea! Lard gets stiff when cold. We had lard in the kitchen
and it worked.
shoreline in sight anywhere and the coal supply was dwindling.
Time to burn whatever was burnable to keep making headway - looking
for other ships for information and possible help. Finally a
scream "LAND". Land meant survival and supplies, but
what land? We had found Sydney, Nova Scotia. We were headed
for Quebec City but this was land! We have survived! But we
weren't going to make it to Quebec City because the St. Lawrence was
FROZEN! Just a glitch in the planning.
Sydney was not able to handle us. We would have to go to
Halifax. Go back into the Atlantic with Russian submarines knowing
where we were and where we were going. NO WAY!!
a way was found with an escort, between coastal islands and various
channels and finally to Pier 21 in Halifax harbour. How to house
and feed 360 people? Accept? Reject?
had some English speakers who could speak to the local
authorities. One I remember was a would-be medical doctor, Kask.
Two I know well, were former neighbours in Don Mills, Guri and Marcella
Raag. Guri died this past week at 101. Marcella is still with
us at 98. I wanted to bring her here but that did not work out.
Halifax we were housed in a closed "military hospital" which
really had been a hospital for criminals with communicable
diseases. On the back side of this "hospital" was a real
curiosity, Africville, Canada's major all-African community.
Very poor! Most of us had never seen a black person
day, a horse-drawn milk wagon got into difficulty and the horse
died. It was dragged into a shed for butchering. Many
wondered what in the world we had done for ourselves. Well, we now
know that Canada has done well by us and we have done well by Canada.
many other similar efforts did not do so well. Let's raise a glass
to the people who had the gumption to make such decisions, even though
they were helped by the knowledge that by not doing so could have
resulted in much worse outcomes."
everyone attending the reunion.
Madrus shared some of his recollections and had brought along a special keepsake - a Swedish spoon from the
agreed that five years was too long to wait before getting together
Soon --- We were very fortunate to have a special surprise -
Warren Leppik of Cognition Productions, a Toronto Video
Production Company and a member of the Leppik
family - was on hand with his cameraman to document the entire reunion in
pictures and video. Once compiled, the video will be available
online. Stay tuned !
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