Tartu, in Estonia, is home to one of Europe’s oldest and most venerated universities, founded in 1632. Some of the educational and architectural wisdom of the old-world city is captured at Tartu College, an 18-storey educational centre and student’s residence located on Toronto’s Bloor Street. Designed by Estonian architect Elmar Tampold, the college was established to promote the study of Estonian heritage and other cultures. Its founding contributors included former graduates of the ancient university, now members of Toronto’s 12,000-member Estonian community.
This community is the largest concentrated group of Estonians living outside the homeland. Estonia, one of the Baltic countries, was an independent nation until it was annexed by the USSR in 1940. Some 80,000 Estonians escaped to take refuge in Sweden and Germany in 1944. Approximately 15,000 Estonians arrived in Canada from these countries in the late 1940s and ‘50s. Estonia regained its independence during the last stages of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. On August 20, 1991, Estonia declared its independence, thus continuing its statehood (which began on February 24, 1918). On September 6, 1991, Estonian independence was recognized by the Soviet Union. Recognition by other countries followed swiftly, with Canada among the early ones to do so.
Initially, most Estonians in Canada worked as contract labourers. As their knowledge of English improved, Estonians found jobs in the skilled trades and some started their own businesses.
In 1960, the growing Toronto community purchased the old Chester School building on Broadview Avenue. Today, this building is a cultural centre known as Estonian House.
With more than 100 cultural, social, professional and political organizations, Toronto’s Estonians have firmly established their roots in the city. There are nine church congregations, 22 fraternities and sororities, as well as kindergarten and language schools. The Estonians have built a Lutheran and a Baptist church and, with the Latvians, they jointly own St. Andrew’s Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church on Jarvis Street.
Estonian academics, business people, and artists are among Toronto’s prominent professionals. Through the efforts and talents of Estonian architects, the first co-op apartment complex in Canada was built in the 1950s on Queen Street East, and today, several corners of the city contain condominium complexes built by Estonians. In sports, Estonians were the first to introduce Canadians to the graceful movements of rhythmic gymnastics, and to the excitement of orienteering (the sport of wilderness running).
In the wooded areas outside Toronto, three youth camps promote the Estonian language, folk dancing, and sporting traditions. Jõekääru, located near Uxbridge, features one of the first stadiums in Canada to use metric measurement. In the Muskoka wilderness, Kotkajärve is the site for open-air weddings, and in August, holds a “University in the Forest.” Seedrioru, located near the town of Elora, maintains an open-air theatre and a field dedicated to those who died for freedom in Estonia. Annual Estonian festivals at Seedrioru attract from 3,000 to 5,000 people.
One of the city’s most colourful events occurs when Toronto’s Estonian community hosts the Estonian World Festival. Folk dancers, massed choirs, gymnasts, and theatrical performers set the stage in 1972 when more than 10,000 Estonians from around the globe gathered for the festival held in Toronto.
INDEPENDENCE DAY. February 24 celebrates the day in 1918 that Estonia became an independent democratic nation. Each year, on the closest weekend, the Toronto Estonian community commemorates Independence Day with a colourful cultural program and reception.
COMMEMORATION DAY is observed on June 14 by Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians in remembrance of the thousands of people deported to Siberia by the Soviets.
VICTORY DAY. June 23 marks Estonia’s successful struggle for independence against Russian and German forces from 1918 to 1920. Soldiers who died for the cause are honoured on Victory Day.
ST. JOHN’S DAY is celebrated on June 24. This midsummer night celebration follows ancient traditions and festivities, including folk-dancing, singing, and all-night folkloric rituals that welcome the summer solstice.
1991 INDEPENDENCE DAY. On August 2, Estonians celebrate the day in 1991 Estonia declared its independence.
MEIE ELU (OUR LIFE), (Tel. 416-466-0951, 958 Broadview Ave). A weekly newspaper published by the Estonian Publishing Co. Toronto Ltd.
VOITLEJA (THE COMBATANT), (958 Broadview Ave). A periodical published by the Estonian War Veterans League.
ESTONIAN LIFE, (Tel. 416-733-4550, www.eesti.ca, 3 Madison Ave). Editor: Mrs. Elle Puusaag.
There are more than 100 Estonian organizations and clubs in Toronto.
ESTONIA HOUSE, (Tel. 416-461-7963, 958 Broadview Ave), accommodates the following organizations: Estonian Central Council in Canada, (Tel. 416-465-2219); Estonian Federation in Canada; Estonian Canadian Festival Foundation; National Estonian Foundation of Canada; Estonian Association of Toronto; Estonian Folkdance Group Kungla; Estonian Ethnographical Society; Estonian Chess Club; Toronto Estonian Choir of Mixed Voices; Pensioners’ Club; Estonian Philatelists Club; Estonian War Veterans League; and Girl Guides and Boy Scouts organizations. General Manager: Ulo Isberg.
ESTONIAN RELIEF COMMITTEE, (Tel. 416-724-6144, 40 Old Kingston Rd).
THE ESTONIAN ARTS CENTRE (EAC), (Tel. 416-466-8885, 958 Broadview Ave., Suite 204), is a non-profit charitable organization formed in 1974 to support, preserve, and promote the Canadian Estonian arts. Since the rebirth of the free Estonia in 1991, the EAC has been building cultural bridges between Canada and Estonia. It has arranged numerous musical and other cultural events with soloists and groups of performers from Estonia. It now represents the “Eesti Kontsert” and Estonian Institute in Canada. EAC organizes a Seven Arts Camp in Elora every summer and the Estonian Concert Management presents a yearly concert series. President: Stella Pahapill, (Tel. 416-259-9779).
ESTONIA, (140 Erskine Ave). Mixed choir.
ESTONIA CONCERT BAND, (34 Woolton Cres).
ESTONIAN CANADIAN HISTORICAL COMMISSION, (4092 Dunmow Cr., Mississauga).
An Estonian confirmation.
KALEV-ESTIENNE, (3 Pebble Beach Gate, Thornhill). Rhythmic gymnastics group. Contact: Evelyn Koop, Tel. 905-889-4167.
RITMIKA, (Tel. 416-747-7868, www.ritmika.ca, 161 Deerhide Cres). Modern rhythmic gymnastics club.
SOCIETY OF ESTONIAN ARTISTS IN TORONTO, (Tel. 416-250-1245, www.ekkt.org, 175 Hilda Ave., Suite 610). President: Mai Reet Jarve.