S.S. Walnut

A voyage to Freedom - 1948

70th - 2018



 30th - 1978

 50th - 1998   

   60th - 2008

65th - 2013  


Into God's Hands

 A stormy sea -
the water 
looms endless -
cold and frigid;

We leave behind 
those we have loved
things we have known;

All my possessions
in one small suitcase -
are easy to pack;

What fate awaits us?

Together we came
with dread -
yet filled  with hope;

Into God's hands -
we placed our dreams
and our lives;

Deliver us all
from evil
Your kingdom come;

We thank You -
for this second chance
our lives anew.

Tiiu Roiser 
Dec. 2008




70th Reunion
November 24th, 2018

It's hard to image that it is now 70 years since the Walnut's voyage changed the destiny of its many passengers.

On 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 of passengers.


Walnut passengers:  Left - Vivi Kivi (Laaneorg) and Ivi Saumets - right.  
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.


The get-together began with the lighting of a memorial candle for all Walnut passengers that are no longer with us and a moment of silence.



The meaning of the memorial candle and plate....

Estonian 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.

During 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.

Although 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.

Grace for the meal was sung by way of song:

Lord 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.




Vivi Kivi and Pia Machado (daughter of passenger Fredrich Heinsar).


A traditional hot and cold Estonian buffet was served.


Maiu Alers (daughter of passenger Koidula Roiser), Tiiu Ester and Milvi Jeeger.




A 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 room.  The 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.


Slide Show Scenes


Approaching Halifax Harbour Image 1 (Images courtesy of Tiiu Roiser)

Based 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.


Approaching Halifax Harbour Image 2 


Approaching 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.


Approaching Halifax Harbour Image 4 


In 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.


A modern new cruise ship docked exactly where the Walnut would have been in 1948.

The pier and docks as they looked in 1943.  By National Harbours Board - OnSiteReview, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35890135


Inside the national museum - The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 - Halifax


The 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.


Walnut passengers (Herbert Madrus at right) standing in the same hall in 1948 
gazing through grills which are now windows.  

A plaque in the hallway reads as follows:

"Gateway - 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 procedures. 

After 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."


A model of the Halifax Ocean Terminal immigration facility sheds no. 21 and 22.  
Photographed at Pier 21 museum.  
Passengers at the reunion recalled moving from room to room.




A series of railroad tracks were just outside the doors of the pier, awaiting to take new Canadians to their new homes.


A small reproduction within the museum of the holding area where disembarking passengers were lead.


Do any of the passengers remember having their paperwork reviewed in this room?  

File:Examining_new_arrivals_in_Immigration_Examination_Hall,_Pier_21.jpg  1952

Chris Lund/National Film Board of Canada (Crown Copyright) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The voyage of the Walnut is included in a number of museum displays:


A wood model display illustrates how small the arriving Walnut ship was.  

The 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.


A 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.



Walnut 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 serving line.  



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.


Another 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.





Several 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.





Exterior of museum facing city of Halifax.


A plaque in front of the Pier 21 Museum reads:

"In 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."




Extending 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.



Tiiu Roiser handing over Walnut Minute Book to Pier 21 museum curators.  
Read more about the 2016 trip to Halifax here.


During an "open mic" period, several passengers shared stories and recollections.  Thoughts from Walnut Passenger John Leppik:

"Walnut Seventieth Year

In 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.

I 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.

We 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.

Some 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.

That 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.

The 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.

This 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.

This 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.

One night the crashing waves broke up the extra structures for the extra coal that was thought to be necessary for the Atlantic crossing.

That 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.

The 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.

No 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.

But 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!!

Eventually 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?

We 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.

In 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 before.  

One 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.

Unfortunately, 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."



Almost everyone attending the reunion.



Toivo Madrus shared some of his recollections and had brought along a special keepsake - a Swedish spoon from the Walnut trip.

Passengers agreed that five years was too long to wait before getting together again. 

Coming 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 !  


Copyright © 2009 - 2019 Tiiu Roiser-Chorowiec.  All rights reserved.
Distribution, transmission or republication  of any material from www.walnutship1948.ca (formerly walnut1948.cwahi.net) in whole or in part,
in any medium or form is prohibited without the prior written permission of copyright holders.  
For information please email the website's administrator and creator  tiiu-roiser@rogers.com  
All images and text on this page are used with permission and are copyrighted  by the image providers.   
I thank all the individuals who have graciously allowed us to post their images and stories on this website.  A list of contributors appears on the links page.
Background pattern courtesy of Subtlepatterns.com

This page was last updated 27/12/2018 08:48 PM

Back ] Home ] Up ]