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Family Idnurm

Passenger Stories

Mati Idnurm

Mati Idnurm was six years old during the time of the voyage. These are his recollections:

"I remember the storms and actually looking up at the crests of the waves coming at us. I was seasick for a couple of days, but actually began to enjoy the movement of the ship, especially at night. From that time on, I've enjoyed sleeping on a rocking boat.  

When we approached Ireland, the stormy weather had eased and as we sighted land, most people came up on deck to look. There were so many people on the shore side of the ship that it actually listed to that side at a very noticeable angle. At that time, as the decks were clearing, I saw a man throwing stuff overboard. To me it looked like binoculars and a camera. I asked my parents about it, but no explanation was offered.  

After Ireland, the storms continued, but on an occasional clear, calm day, there was a man who fished off the stern of the ship. There was usually a small group, one at the aft deck enjoying what little good weather we had. The fisherman usually was there. I saw him catch a spiny fish, small and ugly - no one in the group knew what it was, but they gave it a name - something to do with the devil.

I remember my father working the pumps when the systems failed. I also remember when, off the coast of Canada, we ran out of coal and began burning the extra wood on the ship.  

As I think back, all the feelings and pictures in my mind flood back. To me, none of the memories are unpleasant, but rather, I begin to understand why I am drawn to the ocean."  

Mati Idnurm (2010)

Above:  A New Year's Eve party was held in Halifax with a full costume party.  

Mati Idnurm explains the meaning behind the costume theme of "The Three Devils":

It [dressing up in this fashion] represented the three things we hated most. The three things that could and did destroy our way of life: Hitler, Stalin, and the devil or evil. We overcame the three. We as a small group had won. We were beginning a new life, a new way of life, and we no longer feared the three."

Visitors to the Walnut Web page often write to ask "What happened to the passengers?  What kind of lives did they have?  Were they happy in their new homeland?"  I am proud to say that everyone became productive citizens of Canada, working hard to build homes for themselves and their families. 

Matti Idnurm has kindly shared what happened to his family after they arrived in Halifax.  In particular, he has shared some photographs of his mother's paintings. They are very special to him and have never been publicly displayed before. So strong were Melanie's remembrances of her beloved homeland, that she painted scenes from her childhood by memory.   We thank Mr. Idnurm for sharing his mother's painted recollections with us.  In his own words, he describes his mother and her paintings:

Recollections Through my Mother's Eyes - Paintings by Melanie Idnurm

Rein and Melanie Idnurm arrived in Canada aboard the Walnut.  After a short stay in Halifax and Ajax , they rented a flat in Toronto, Ontario. After about 18 months,  they purchased a house off the Danforth in Toronto. To help with expenses, Melanie obtained a job with Wintraub and Sons - a company that manufactured an assortment of hand painted items. Melanie worked in the painting department applying hand painted designs, flowers, etc on various items.

With her children growing up, Melanie found time on her hands, and began to experiment with her love of creating something of beauty.  At her job, she had developed a sense of creativity as well as a feeling for colour and balance.  At first she experimented with water colours, doing flower scenes.  She quickly moved to flower pastels, but now included flowers she recalled from her childhood memories in Estonia. Pastels did not seem to fit Melanie’s creative needs and, as expensive as they were, she now purchased oil paints.  From that point on she worked only in oils using an assortment of techniques.

Idnurm painting GlobeFlower

Melanie’s topics for her art were always close to her heart. She did a number of paintings of Tallinn, the tower, and the churches and scenes she recalled from her childhood.  She would sometimes point to a painting and recall how she would walk past this scene on her way to school.   When painting the rural scenery around Udora, Ontario, she would recall her farming roots in Estonia and include scenes from her childhood farm and farming activities.

Altogether, Melanie painted about 100 or so paintings over a span of about ten years. She never sold or even attempted to sell any of her work.  From time to time she would give a painting to a family member or close friend but always asked that it be returned if no longer appreciated.  Each of her works had a special meaning to her and she always knew where each piece was.  As a consequence, even today, her works are closely held within the family unit and by a few close friends or their families.

Melanie painted through the late 1950's and through the 1960's and then, for some unknown reason, she stopped.  Her work was never put on display or evaluated for merit. She did not want recognition or publicity, but rather only wanted the personal pleasure she got from recalling her memories and creating each piece. 

Mati Idnurm - November 2011     

Melanie Idnurm painting Tallinn Tower

Are you a Walnut passenger?  A family member?  Would you like to share your story?  Please contact us,  we'd love to add your memories to our collection.