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Johannes Kikkajoon

Passenger Stories

Johannes Kikkajoon

Story Text:  


My name is Johannes Kikkajoon and my birth country is Estonia, and I was born on April 24, 1920. My early life in Estonia was pleasant enough as the youngest of 7 Children. The simplicity of life continued until 1940 when we were occupied by the Soviet Union. It was this occupation which brought World War II home to us. As a young man I worked on my family’s farm in a fairly tight knit community where our Church was the Heart. I also attended an Agricultural College in a City about 20 kms from my village. I spoke Estonian for the most part, but I also had some fluency in Russian, Finnish and German.

I left Estonia after my older brother disappeared, presumed to have died, after being mobilized by the Russiann army. Power then changed hands and we were occupied by the Germany army during 1942 and I and many other of my friends, all young men in their early 20’s, were to be mobilized by the Germans as cannon fodder. We fled our homes and hid in the coastal marshes until it was possible to smuggle us to Finland. There we remained for 6 months until we were able to enter Sweden. I was 22 years old when I left my family’s pastures for the last time.


When I arrived in Sweden, my friends and I knew that we would eventually go on to an English speaking nation and the possibilities were Canada, United States of America and Australia. 

To prepare for this I studied the English language for 4 years while I worked in Exile awaiting the right time to emigrate to Canada. I was coming to Canada as a Displace Person, a Refugee, and I did not have employment waiting for me. There was an Estonian Community in Toronto which operated an'Estonian Assistance League' to welcome me and my companions, as well as having a strong back, a willing spirit and two strong hands. 

After spending 6 weeks in a D.P. (displaced Persons) Camp in Halifax, I decided to more to Toronto with my companions from our Ship. 


While still in Sweden we were trying to find Passage to a free Nation. We did not have Passports, Visas or other Travel Documents which was proving to be difficult for our search. We found out that a group of men were looking for shareholders to buy shares in an old Navy trawler which would be sailed by the passengers themselves to Canada. I had money saved up and along with another 49 men and families, purchased a Ship called the Walnut for $63,000.00. We then sold Passage Fares to others to pay for the trip. Finally, we left Gothenburg, Sweden on November 17, 1948 with 347 passengers for a 26 day voyage across the North Atlantic in Winter Seas. People were crammed in wherever we could make room, the food was not very good but nobody complained. We were going on to freedom. We arrived in Canadian waters during the second week of December and turned around at Quebec as the St. Lawrence was frozen. We back tracked to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and were allowed to land at Pier 21 on December 13, 1948. As I said before, we were almost all Displaced Persons, no documents or Travel Visas to allow our entry into Canada. So we were processed by the Canadian Government over a 6 week period while we remained interred in the D.P. Camps. We were so fortunate as the Inhabitants of Halifax were very friendly and seemed to take a true liking to us. We felt very welcome. We become known in the media as 'The Little Estonian Ship of Freedom'. 

Another factor was our inability to remain in contact with our families in Estonia. We feared repercussions against our families should the Russians learn of our whereabouts. I was unable to contact my family until I had been in Canada for about two years, and this I did in a very fearful fashion. This fear remained for a long time, right into the 1980’s. 

I had left a living Mother, and 4 sisters behind. I never saw them again. 


Our Culture really had flourished upon our arrival in Toronto. There were 3 primary areas in the city where we settled in the late 40’s through the early 60’s. We had our own newspaper, Churches where the services were held in our own language, social clubs and youth groups. We had a Community Centre where we could meet, hold classes in our native arts such as Music, Folk Dance, Language studies for the children, Rhythmic Gymnastics and Theatre. I met my wife through one of the Church picnics and we were Married for 53 years. As children were born, we had Scout and Guide Camps and a Summer Camp to continue our Heritage. Our language has remained fairly static since we arrived in Canada. 

Whereas in Estonia, the language is Vibrant and Changing, the Estonian spoken by us and our offspring is little changed from when we left in 1942. 


My effect on Canada is of little consequence, however, when you look at the Migration of a Peoples, Canada received some very Hard working folk who though they celebrated their own Culture and Nationality were Dedicated Canadians. We had to wait for 5 years as Landed Immigrants until we could apply for our Citizenships. What pride I felt on the day that I became a Canadian. We came to Canada with nothing but a suitcase and a capacity for labour and from this we built Canadian Families. We Vote, We Work, We Sing, We Worship, We give Thanks and Praise. 



From what I have heard from my Grandfather, his life seems to have been very hard. Losing his brother, fear of mobilization by the German Army, Exile from the land of his birth, a difficult sea journey and never to see his family or the land of his birth again. He is 85 years old now, and has had a happy and fulfilling life in Canada. I asked him what he was, He replied that he was Canadian. What more can you say ? 

Johannes Kikkajoon married, raised three children, who in turn went on to marry into diverse Canadian Families and raise families of their own. When you look at One man, that may not be a lot where a nation is concerned. 

Now multiply that by the Thousands who Migrated to Canada, Now that’s a Huge Impact. 

BY: Michael Foster 
Grade 8


Credit: Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 - The Immigration Story of Johannes Kikkajoon (Estonian immigrant) S2012.2044.1;  country of origin: Estonia; arriving December 13, 1948;

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