History of Linda Hall

Irene and Deane Kerbes

Linda Hall was built by Estonian pioneers. They arrived in the area about 1901-1906 to be agricultural farmers and realized they needed knowledge in crop production, harvesting and marketing, as well as government and politics. So they decided to pool their knowledge and form a club. At a general meeting in 1910 under heavy brush at Neithal's home, the Estonian pioneers formed "Linda Eesti Pộllumeeste Selts", ("Linda Estonian Agricultural Society""). John Neithal was elected President, John Kerbes as secretary, John Oro as treasurer. Thirty-five men became members. It was decided to hold monthly meetings on the second Sunday of each month. The farm homes soon were too small for meetings so a decision was made to build a community hall.

Why was the hall named "Linda"? The name derives from the Estonian epic "Kalevipoeg". Kalev is a mythical super hero and Linda is his wife. She travels everywhere with him and is beloved for her beauty, intellect and culture. There was much discussion by the men's club about the choice of name for the hall. Since "Linda" embodied cultural values, her name was chosen for the hall as well as the "Linda Põllumeeste Selts". Kalev's prowess was not forgotten. The Estonian settlement northwest of Big Valley was named " Kalev".

The land for Linda Hall, located eleven miles south and one and half miles east of Settler, was donated by John Kerbes in 1911. To raise money, box lunches were sold at the picnics with a total of $300 raised this way. In those times, this was a considerable sum and enabled basic building materials to be purchased. Members also donated equal amounts, to be repaid from rental revenues or to remain as a gift.

The first hall was a small rectangular building, positioned lengthwise, west to east. The west entrance door opened directly to the hall proper and the stage. The hall was later lengthened by several feet and the entrance changed to the east. The first building, built entirely by volunteer labour, was a simple roomy structure. It had a grand opening on Jaanipaev, June 1911. In just one year, an idea had been transformed into a community hall.

The furniture consisted of homemade orange colored benches and wooden tables with folding legs. The benches and tables were stored under the stage or in a storage space under the building. There was a wooden book-case filled with books, some from Plum Tree Publishing Co. in Estonia, about farm economics, history, travel, geography, medicine, veterinary science and fiction. Over time this library grew to contain approximately 2000 books which were lent out once a month during meetings. The hall had an upright piano. Lighting was from coal-oil lamps resting on wall brackets high above peoples' heads. A disastrous fire in 1930 destroyed the hall and all of its contents. The books were missed most of all as they had been ordered directly from Estonia after WW I.

Finances for rebuilding the hall came from fire insurance and donations by Society members, each according to financial ability. The new building was rebuilt by volunteer labor and came into use in the early 1930's. The Society sought to have a building with fine acoustics. Despite their efforts, they had to settle for the ceiling as it now is. The basement kitchen also had drawbacks, being too cold and the stove pipes being unable to draw. Eventually a kitchen was built on the outside central part of the south wall.

The Society looked after all activities at the hall for many years. Meetings of the "Linda Põllumeeste Selts" were conducted in Estonian until the early 1950s after which a switch was made to English. The hall had outdoor equipment for physical development with a swing, trapeze, parallel bars, sand and poles for high and long jumping. Distance runners used the adjacent road. The brass band, formed by Tony Fridulin, entertained mostly outdoors while the mixed choir entertained indoors.

The Linda Men's Club planned five or six events each year: a fall masquerade, Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day and St. John's Day (Jaanipäev). Family nights were held once a month. These usually began with a "Circle Song" where everyone joined hands in a circle, with a pair in the center, and everyone sang a familiar folksong. During the chorus, the tempo increased and the dancers in the middle picked a new partner and danced a fast polka until everyone in the hall was up, singing and dancing. This was followed by games of skill, a program of educational presentations (by either sex), musical entertainment and a dance. Lunch would be served. The dances always began and ended with a waltz.

Everyone enjoyed square dances called by Joe Tipman, Ed Kerbes and many others. The violin players in the early years included John Kerbes, Martin Neithal, Mike Tipman, John Raho and Dick Hennel. The musicians started playing their instruments while they were still very young. John Kerbes on violin, was accompanied by his six year old son Archie playing the piano. In future years, Archie played the piano and his brother Alec played the violin at many district dances, parties and social gatherings. John Kerbes' younger sons, Ernie and Jim, also played the violin. John's daughter, Helen (Kerbes) Mulligan was the pianist with the original 4K's Orchestra, a group which for decades was the band of choice at Linda Hall.

During summer picnics, there were indoor and outdoor sports, speeches and plays. The society as a group made trips to enjoy nearby rivers and lakes.

The ladies of the Linda Hall district formed a club in 1925, soon after the men-folk had formed "Linda Põllumeeste Selts". The ladies club was called "Linda Naiste Rahvaste Ühisus - translated "Linda Women's Society". Meetings were held in Estonian. Some of the original members from the Linda and Kalev area were: Mrs. Minnie {John} Kerbes, Mrs. Lizzie {John} Saar, Mrs. Minnie (Tony) Fridulin, Mrs. Hilda (Martin) Oro, Mrs. Alide Wartnow, Mrs. Annette (Jaan) Kerbes, Mrs. Annie (Felix) Cusick, Mrs. Pauline (Kristian) Mägi, Mrs. Ida (William) Hennel, Mrs. Marie (Martin) Oliver, Mrs. Leena Klaus, Mrs. Pauline (August) Nicklom, Mrs. Julia (Peter) Kerbes, and many others. For a time the club was associated with the U.F.W.A. Among the members in the 1920's was Mrs. Maria Oliver, Mrs. Elizabeth Saar, Mrs. Anna J. Tipman, Mrs. J. Klaus, Mrs. B. Mägi, Annie Raho and others. This club was dissolved during the 1940s. For a time, some ladies in the district made lunches and catered dances individually. In 1952, some district ladies got together, these being Anna Tipman, Salme Hennel, Dulcie Hennel, Dorthea Laing and Doris Hennel. They were a quorum of five, and formed the present Linda Hall Ladies Club which conducted business in English. Anna Tipman acted as President, and Dulcie Hennel as secretary. Although minutes were kept of the meetings, unfortunately they have been lost. Doris Hennel remains a honorary member of the ladies' group.

Over the years, the men's and ladies' clubs cooperated in many joint financial ventures. Along with support from government grants, they were able to make improvements and upgrades to Linda Hall. Forced air heating and running water were installed, and the kitchen was updated with a cooler, new flooring and paint. The ladies' club purchased chairs, tables, kitchen equipment, electric stoves etc. A micro-wave was donated to the hall following a school reunion held to remember 'the good old times' enjoyed at Linda Hall.

At club Christmas concerts, children and adults took part in plays, singing and recitations, and of course, there was a visit from Santa. The annual summer picnic is still held around Jaanipäev. The entertainment at the picnic includes horseshoes, log sawing, nail pounding, rolling pin throw, children;s games, and a pot luck supper. The ladies buy gifts for member's children who graduate from grades 9 and 12. The Club caters for weddings, funerals, parties and meetings. Each year on the first Sunday of November, they host a fall supper complete with Estonian rye bread. The Ladies Club, Linda Men's Club and the Recreation Board all work together on the fall supper and share the proceeds.

Before a kitchen was built at the hall, the ladies brought cream cans of water for coffee which was boiled on a wood stove in the basement. They made the lunch on a table upstairs. Gas lanterns hung from the high ceiling. A big pot- bellied stove at the back of the hall and a small stove in the ladies room provided heat. In 1953, the Men's Club decided to give the catering to a group of ladies instead of one or two persons, with 20% of the profit to be given to the hall. In 1954 electricity was installed. In 1957 a kitchen was built on the south side of the hall, all with volunteer help. In 1965 a new dance floor was installed in the hall and in 1966 a stoker was installed. In 1974 a well was drilled. In 1977 and 1978, the Hennel brothers, Henry and Harvey, held a threshing bee at their farm to raise money for the hall. The Ladies Club sold lunches at these functions. As a result in 1979, indoor washroom facilities were installed. In the same year, ball diamonds with back stops were completed with ample room for parking and camping. An extension of the kitchen and large walk-in cooler were welcome additions in 1984. Also in 1984, Glen Collins made signage for the hall.

In 1988 an improved heating system was put in place. A playground for children was made on the south side of the hall which included swings, a slide and merry-go-round. Horse-shoe pits were built for grown-ups. An extension was built on the north side of the hall and a built-in vacuum cleaner was installed in 1986. A burning pit was also developed. The renovation included construction of a liquor bar and a carpeted social dining area on the north side of the hall which easily accommodates 150 people. A covered Bar-B-Q annex was added to the north side and the roof changed to cover the whole area.

The original 1911 wooden hall was probably unpainted. The second hall was painted white and aqua. When the roof was changed, new white siding was added. It is quite a different looking hall now it was in the early years. When the Estonian-Canadian Centennial was celebrated at Linda Hall on Jaanipäev, June 1999, two flag poles and a plaque were placed beside the main door. The plaque commemorates pioneers 'who made this land our home'. In 2005, a small patio was poured near the plaque and a garden seat was placed nearby. This area is accented by chain railing leading to the main steps of Linda Hall.

From the early 1900's to the present, Linda Hall has been the scene of many community events such as agricultural meetings, concerts, Estonian gatherings, dances, weddings, funerals, reunions and many assorted functions. Province-wide Estonian Jaanipäev celebrations have been held here over the years, including the first Jaanipäev of the Alberta Estonian Heritage Society in 2005. In 2000, Lennart Meri, President of Estonia, visited Stettler to view its pioneer past and meet Estonian pioneer descendants at a reception at Linda Hall. The past and present members of the Linda Hall Clubs have generously volunteered their time and skills to keep the hall an active and inviting place. Hopefully future members of the clubs will continue traditions set so long ago.

The above information was taken from articles by Anna Tipman, Joe Tipman, Doris Hennel, and from "Eestlased Kanadas" (1975). The information was compiled by Irene and Deane Kerbes, February, 2006.

Alberta's Estonian Heritage