The Walnut Website is dedicated to sharing the stories and rich legacy of a generation who risked their lives in a search for freedom.
During the second world war, tens of thousands of refugees fled the illegal occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union. This was a time of mass deportations, targeted executions, and the repression of the Estonian people.
Having first fled to Sweden, a group of individuals now known as the “Walnut Passengers” purchased a ship in 1948 and fled to Canada. This is their story.
The passengers remain a close group and hold reunions often. It was at the 60th reunion, held in December 2008, that the idea came about to gather together all voyage materials to form a curation of artefacts for future generations. Since Pier 21 Museum prominently features the Walnut ship in their museum exhibits and uses its story for school projects, this website has also come to be a resource for research.
A wonderful additional consequence of the site has been the reuniting of many Walnut passengers, their family members, and individuals associated with the journey and the ship.
The website is administered by the daughter of two passengers, Koidula and Eduard Roiser.
Contact at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have a comment or question, we'd love to hear from you! Are you a Walnut passenger? A relative of a passenger? Would you like to share your story? Send to email@example.com
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April 2011 -
On the 18th of November 1948, 347 people undertook a dangerous journey from Sweden to Canada in a British minesweeper, the SS Walnut, which was originally designed to sleep 18 men. They survived several winter storms and seasickness during this 3-week passage, which finally brought them to Pier 21, in Halifax, on December 13th. This voyage is part of a much larger movement, referred to by Estonian historians as “the little Viking boats”. In all, 46 vessels left Sweden with thousands of Estonians aboard (Aun 1985).
Lynda Männik, a former student with the Social Anthropology Department at York University, has now completed her Ph.D. Thesis. She has completed interviewing surviving passengers of the SS Walnut living in and near Toronto. Her study was aimed at examining connections between photography, memory and archived sources. Information from Sweden, Germany, Estonia and Canada, including media reports and government documents, provided contextual insights. Added to that are the results of oral interviews with those who undertook this voyage. Photographs taken primarily by Joann Saarniit, Max Kalm and Manivald Sein played a central role in her analysis.
The first set of interviews focused on:
- impressions of Canada prior to leaving Sweden;
- experiences on the voyage;
- time spent in Halifax; and
- current reflections on experiences after leaving Halifax.
Männik also completed a second set of interviews, where participants were shown two short videos, both produced by the Pier 21 Museum about the Walnut. A list of questions focused on past visits to the Pier 21 Museum, reflections on the video, and general perspectives of the Pier 21 displays concerning migration to Canada during this period.
One of the primary reasons Männik undertook this project is that following WWII, over 50,000 Estonian refugees migrated to North America. However, their histories have received little attention in the mainstream, Canadian academic community. Since the early 1990's, life story research has become very popular in Estonia and a concerted effort has been made towards filling in historical gaps left by years of Soviet occupation. She has been following the literature on this trend, which also calls for more research concerning migrations that took place after 1944 and feels that this project will add substantially to recognizing the determination and concerted agency of many Estonians at this time. Männik is also interested in the links between lived experience and the official representations of these experiences that take place in museums, the media and government records.
Note: Lynda Männik's father was a passenger of the ship.
Lynda Männik's book is available from UBC Press and Amazon
On 13 December 1948, a ship carrying 347 Estonian refugees fleeing Soviet rule arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The photographic records of this harrowing experience bear witness to the refugee experience.
216 pages, 6 x 9
39 b&w illustrations
Paperback - Release Date: 01 Jan 2014
Hardcover - Release Date: 29 Apr 2013
PDF - Release Date: 20 Apr 2013