Sylvan Lake

The town of Sylvan Lake is located about 20 kilometres west of Red Deer and is situated on the southeast edge of Sylvan Lake, a 15 kilometre long freshwater lake. Currently, Sylvan Lake is a popular resort town featuring numerous restaurants and bars. During the summer, the lake is teeming with swimmers, boats and sunbathers; however, Sylvan Lake also possesses historical significance, particularly in reference to Estonian migration. Initially settled as early as 1884 by Dr. Leonard Gaetz the area would soon become the home to numerous ethnocultural groups.

Kristjan and Hendrik Kingsep and their families arrived in Sylvan Lake, Alberta area in 1899. Kristjan was a restless seaman and left his wife Tiina to fend for herself and five children. She was an energetic woman and managed to raise her family while she welcomed newly-arriving pioneers to stay at her home until they found other accommodation in the area. She sold food and other staples to the railroad workers installing tracks in the area. In 1899, Hendrik and his brother Kristjan Kingsep were some of the first people to establish permanent settlements in the Sylvan Lake area. Attracted by the abundance of fish in Sylvan Lake, the Kingseps were not alone as French-Canadian and Finnish families had also recently settled here. Kristjan's wife Tiina and their five young children arrived one year later. Other Estonian families -Jaan, Alex and Anton Kask, Peter and Mihkel Piht, John Herman, Mihkel and Elizabet (Kask) Wartnow, Juhan Oru, Juhan Neithal and Mihkel Rahu - arrived in 1900 and 1901. Known as the Livonia Estonian settlement, families from Saaremaa in Estonian and Nurmekunde in Tver province in Russia, purchased more homesteads and, by 1903, there were 61 individuals residing in Sylvan Lake. Available land soon became scarce as an influx of Swedes, Finns and Estonians flocked to the open west. Families arriving after 1903 opted to relocate at Stettler, to the east, and Medicine Valley, to the north.

Map showing Estonian Homesteads near Sylvan Lake, Alberta ca 1902. The pioneering families of Sylvan Lake formed an agricultural collective to ease the burden of farming. Without proper equipment and often facing unfavourable weather conditions, profitable farming was a challenging enterprise in the pioneer era. The agricultural collective was established by the Kingsep brothers and Juhan Neithal, originally from Nurmekunde. Other early community initiatives saw the construction of a school on land granted by Juhan Kask.

When Kristjan left Sylvan Lake in 1903, his wife, Tiina, remained on the farm and opened it up as a "midway" house to new settlers. When the railroad eventually arrived at Sylvan Lake in 1911, Tiina sold goods and supplies to construction workers camping in the vicinity. Eventually, some members of the Kask family, among others, would relocate to other areas of western Canada and USA in pursuit of better employment and a higher education.

Sylvan Lake Settlement, 1899-1904
NameNo. of
Family Members
OriginArrival Date
Kingsep, Hendrik4Võrumaa1899
Kingsep, Kristjan7Võrumaa1899
Kask, Jaan1Saaremaa1900
Piht, Peter?Saaremaa1900
Piht, Mihkel?Saaremaa1900
Herman, Peeter?Saaremaa1901
Kask, Anton?Saaremaa1901
Kask, Alex?Saaremaa1901
Oru, Juhan2Nurmekunde1901
Rahu, Mihkel?Nurmekunde1901
Neithal, Juhan?Nurmekunde1901
Kask, Johan?Saaremaa1901
Herman, John?Saaremaa1902
Wall, Madis2Saaremaa1902
Wall, Gustav?Saaremaa?
Posti, August4Tartumaa1902
Kinna, Hendrik1Võrumaa1902
Vaartnõu, Mihkel?Nurmekunde1901
Tipman, Magnus6Nurmekunde1902
Tipman, Juhan?Nurmekunde1902
Tipman, Joosep?Nurmekunde1904
Editor's Note: This list was compiled by Voldemar Matiisen.

Additional information can be found in History - Alberta Estonian Settlements - Sylvan Lake and Medicine Valley

Alberta's Estonian Heritage