S.S. Walnut

A Voyage to Freedom - 1948

50th - 1998



 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




50th Reunion - 1998
October 17, 1998


Passengers attending 50th reunion.

Passengers at 50th reunion.

The 50th reunion of the Walnut passengers was held on October 17th, 1998, at the Toronto St. Peter's Lutheran Church hall.  Since more than 100 people were in attendance, the registration of all guests took a considerable length of time.  Passengers got reacquainted and reminisced with each other and viewed the photo and memorabilia displays.

The event commenced with greetings from Nelly Lind who announced that the guest traveling the furthest to attend was Lia Anderson from California.  Those passengers who had passed away were remembered with a silent prayer.  Pastor Hannes Aasa quoted the story of Jona and the Whale and ended with the words:  "God watch over us today and tomorrow."

The food was organized by the guests with many bringing dishes of their favourite recipes.  The table was laden with meats, vegetables, sauerkraut, salads, etc.  Everyone enjoyed compote -- stewed fruit -- for desert. 

Memories were recalled by four individuals who gave speeches:  Tiiu Roiser-Chorowiec's two parents were aboard the Walnut.  She outlined the voyage in English based on her father' Eduard's Minute Book and the memories of her mother, Koidula.  

Friedrich Heinsar spoke in Estonian how the ship's German navigator had left the Ship in Sligo, Ireland.  Since Friedrich had the necessary papers, he was offered and took the vacant crew position. 

Hilja Kuutma recalled vividly her adventure on the sea.  Hilja, who had been 12 on the voyage, together with the other youngsters, did not have any fear.  On the nice days, she remembers the children gathering on the top deck and playing amongst the orange boxes and crates containing artist Joan Saarniit's paintings. She said it was exciting on the open sea.  She recalls the luxury of having a bath in Ireland.  Sometimes the waves seemed like huge mountains that rolled over the ship making moving about impossible.  Everyone mentioned and remembered well the cramped sleeping quarters --  she described the people sleeping like sardines in a can!   Hilja also recalls drinking Coca-Cola and the New Year's Eve party in Halifax.  

Hilja stressed the necessity for children her age at the time to leave their homes twice during four years.  Both times they had to learn a new language and start their lives all over again.  Fifty years ago there was no such thing as learning the English language in school.  We adapted to the culture quickly without any specific problems.  

Nelly Lind, well-known in the Estonian community for her love of rhyme,  presented a humorous poem outlining her voyage recollections.

The speeches were followed by the serving of an array of cakes, cookies and coffee and a video presentation of the Walnut's voyage.  The rocking of the ship and the huge waves were clearly visible on the television screen.  Manivald Sein shared his many memories followed by traditional Estonian group singing, accompanied by Walnut passenger Voldemar Gustavson on flute.  Mr. Gustavson's sister, Nelly Hubel, explained that ever since the voyage, she no longer enjoys oranges because she's convinced that they were what caused her terrible seasickness.

Peter Saarniit had brought the Walnut life preserver to the reunion and former passengers enjoyed the opportunity of taking photographs with the life ring. The evening was enjoyed to its fullest and passengers milled about comparing memories.  Some had not seen each other for over 50 years and there was much catching up to do!

Tiiu Roiser-Chorowiec
based partially on Estonian article 
"Üks omapärane juubel" by Paul Rabisson in Meie Elu, 1998


The following photographs were donated by Walnut passengers and/or their families.  All images on this page are used with permission 
and are Copyrighted  © 2009 by the image providers.  All rights reserved.   
I thank all the individuals who have graciously allowed us to post their images on this website.  
A list of contributors appears on the links page.  


If you are a passenger, please help with the captions.  
Names will only be posted with the permission of the subject depicted or if the name has already appeared in a published article.
Passenger names are identified in red.

Click each thumbnail to see the full-size picture.

See all the photos from 50th reunion

1998-5-Hubel.jpg (125748 bytes)

1998-6-Hubel.jpg (214865 bytes)

VKivi-A.jpg (275071 bytes)

Vivi Kivi (nee Laaneorg) 
and Mary Valge 
(nee Marie Gustavson)

at the registration table.
Dinner is served.
A traditional Estonian buffet.
Coffee & desert table.

VKivi-B.jpg (293455 bytes)

1998-2-Hubel.jpg (149561 bytes) 1998-7.jpg (189441 bytes)
Back row:  4th from left
Nelly Hubel (nee Gustavson), 
Vivi Kivi, Max Kalm. 

Front row:  2nd from left
Manivald Sein
and Mary Valge.
Siblings reunited:  From the left family Gustavson -- Mary Valge, Peter Gustavson, Nelly Hubel.  Right front:  Voldemar Gustavson. Family Laaneorg.  From the left: 
Karl Lane (Laaneorg), 
Vivi Kivi (nee Laaneorg),
Aasa and Raivo Laaneorg.

1998-2TR.jpg (171985 bytes)

1998-6TR.jpg (106733 bytes)

1998-5TR.jpg (192978 bytes)
From left:  Koidula Roiser,Tiiu Roiser, Kevin Chorowiec, Maiu Alers, Anne Remmel (daughter of passengers Reginald & Helene Remmel) Nelly Lind hands out flowers thanking reunion organizers.  From left:  Adele Reitav, Koidula Roiser, Harald Kivi, Tiiu Roiser, and someone not visible. Koidula Roiser passenger with daughters Tiiu Roiser-Chorowiec and Maiu Alers.

A11-TR.jpg (86085 bytes)

1998-9.jpg (162778 bytes)

VKivi-C.jpg (161687 bytes)
Koidula Roiser Mary Valge, ?, Peter Gustavson 
and Nelly Hubel
Right:  Vivi Kivi

VKivi-D.jpg (94697 bytes)

A2.jpg (42978 bytes)

A1.jpg (30400 bytes)

Eduard Kuutma, Vivi Kivi 
and Hilja Kuutma
Passengers 1.
Front row from left:  

Eduard Kuutma and Nelly Lind
Passengers 2.
A3.jpg (36750 bytes)

A4.jpg (62836 bytes)

A5.jpg (26262 bytes)

Passengers 3.  
 Center back -
Tõnis Lind and Manifred Kalm.

Passengers 4.
From the left:  ?,?,
Hilja Kuutma, 
Milvi Silm (nee Jeeger),
?, ?

Passengers 5.  
Front row from left:
  Koidula Roiser, 
Marie Valge, Nelly Hubel, 
Vivi Kivi  and Helmi Särg.

A6.jpg (33825 bytes)

A7.jpg (65030 bytes)

VKivi-H.jpg (220660 bytes)

Passengers 6.  
Front row, third from right: 
Manivald Sein

Passengers 7.  
Front row crouching:  

Ivi Saumets

 Joann Saarniit's depiction of theWalnut in the Atlantic winter storms

VKivi-J.jpg (366962 bytes)

vKivi-I.jpg (478618 bytes)

VKivi-K.jpg (407528 bytes)

Passengers 8. Nelly Lind thanks all who helped with reunion arrangements. Nelly Hubel and Vivi Kivi.

1998-4-Hubel.jpg (157241 bytes)

VKivi-G.jpg (328923 bytes)

1998-1-Hubel.jpg (254531 bytes)

Sisters Mary Valge 
Nelly Hubel  
with original Walnut life preserver.

Harald Kivi helps out 
preparing the meal.

Koidula Roiser and Mary Valge  
preparing for the reunion dinner.

A9.jpg (79768 bytes)

All passengers in attendance.


The Honourable Michael D. Harris, Premier of Ontario, sent his greetings:  "On behalf of the Government of Ontario, I am pleased to extend congratulations to the members of the Estonian community as you mark the fiftieth anniversary of your immigration to Canada.

I trust that this auspicious occasion will give Estonian-Ontarians pause to reflect on your rich history.  Cultural diversity is one of our province's greatest strengths.  And, over the past five decades, you have not only fostered and preserved your values and traditions in Ontario, but you have enriched the communities in which you live.

Please accept my best wishes for a memorable celebration."

Click below to view Greetings from the 
Honourable Michael D. Harris,
 Premier of Ontario

Greetings from the Premier of Ontario


"Estonian refugees mark voyage
Flight to freedom 50 years ago"

The Toronto Star - Monday, October 19, 1998 - by Peter Edwards, Staff Reporter
Copyright © The Toronto Star.  Used with permission.

Nelly Lind's strongest memories of her flight to freedom in Canada aren't about fear.

And they aren't about the huge Atlantic Ocean waves that washed over the deck of the tiny ship, the Walnut, forcing passengers to cling to the railings or be washed overboard.

Lind's strongest memories are of sauerkraut soup.

"There were lots of little worms in it," she says, cringing at the memory 50 years later.  "That was something I'll remember always."

The passengers of the Walnut, a former Royal Navy minesweeper, held a reunion this weekend at St. Peter's Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church on Mount Pleasant Rd. near Eglinton Ave. E.

But the wormy memories didn't hinder the 78-year old woman's appetite during Saturday's festivities, as she enjoyed smoked turkey and kringel, a sweet bread, along with more than a hundred other Walnut passengers and their families.

For Hilya Kuutan, aboard the Walnut as a 12-year-old, her strongest memory is of the pure excitement.  "It was an adventure for us.  As a child, you were not scared."

The 347 passengers of The Walnut, who braved a month-long voyage to Canada, started their long journey when they fled Estonia for Sweden to escape the Red Army during World War II.

When the war ended, the Soviet government demanded that Sweden return its citizens.  In 1948, the refugees watched in horror as fellow Estonians were dragged crying into boats and back to the Soviet Union.

Rather than face the same fate, they decided to flee to Canada.

The journey wasn't easy for most of the passengers.

"I didn't eat for a month, I was so sick," said Lind, who crossed the Atlantic with her husband Tõnis and her sons Tony and Tiit Eric.

The passengers were told before  the voyage that they probably wouldn't be allowed into Canada, but they gambled and came anyway.  The risk paid off.  Parliament created a special exemption to allow them to land on Canadian soil.

"We were really among the first board people," Kuutan said.  "It was a refugee boat.  We came here illegally.  They just didn't call it that."


Harald and Helmi Sarg.

Although Harald Sarg, 93, and his bride of 49 years Helmi, 78, won't call the Walnut a love boat, they did meet on board and were engaged within three weeks of their arrival in the Toronto area.  "He figured I was a good-hearted person," Helmi said with a smile.

Sarg made his living as a construction worker while his wife worked in the office at Sears.  Like the rest of the Walnut's passengers, they are proud they were able to support themselves without government aid.



Photo caption:  Harald Sarg, 93, and his wife Helmi, 78, enjoy the 50th anniversary reunion of passengers who made their way to Canada aboard the Walnut, where the pair met.



Ene Pomerants Johnson remembers lots of crying, but not much else of the voyage.  She was just 3.  "I was very ill and I didn't eat at all," she recalled.  "My mother even said (jokingly) they were going to throw me overboard."  Like most of the passengers, her family settled in Ajax.

There are about 10,000 people of Estonian heritage in southern Ontario, possibly the largest Estonian community outside Eastern Europe.

It was worth the ocean waves and the worms in the soup to get here, Kuutan said.  "You're part of Canada.  There are no regrets."


Copyright © 2009 - 2019 Tiiu Roiser-Chorowiec.  All rights reserved.
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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.
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This page was last updated 27/12/2018 08:05 PM

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