On February 24th, 2018, the Estonian community of Vancouver celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Estonia. The event took place in Richmond’s Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel, located just outside of Vancouver proper. In cooperation with the Honorary Consul of Estonia in Vancouver, Harry Jaako, the Vancouver Estonian Society laboured for over a year to plan this event. To the great joy of the organisers, the block of hotel rooms set aside for guests, as well all tickets to the celebration, were sold out, indicating that the community was aware of this occasion’s special significance; it is estimated that approximately two hundred and fifty people attended the festivities. Indeed, such awareness was already noticed a few days prior, when many community members visited BC Place Stadium in downtown Vancouver as it was lit up in the sinimustvalge of the Estonian flag.
The aktus began with a flag processional; the Vancouver Police Ceremonial Unit carried in the Canadian and Estonian flags to the singing of “O Canada,” placed the flags into their respective holders, made their salutes, and promptly left the room. Then came the opening remarks made by Vancouver Estonian Society esimees Thomas Pajur, who spoke about the meaning and importance of the anniversary.
More specifically, he emphasised the point that possessing freedom was, and still is, of the utmost importance to all Estonians; on this note, there is a need to remember the past and also work together for a brighter future. As he put it, tuleb koos töödata helgema tuleviku suunas - Elagu Eesti!!! The Society President’s remarks were followed by a palvus from õpetaja Algur Kaerma, who gave blessings and also spoke about the importance of Estonian independence.
Following this, Harry Jaako came to the stage to give his tervitused. He spoke about the status of Estonia on the anniversary of its independence, and also forwarded a greeting from the Premier of British Columbia, John Horgan, who congratulated the Estonian community and all Estonians on their special day. Greetings were then presented by the President of the Lithuanians of British Columbia, Linas Antanavicius, and from the Latvian community representative, Rita Blosmanis. After these greetings, there was a moment of silence to remember those who had fought in the War of Independence, including those that had passed away in the struggle. The latter were commemorated by all attendees singing “Puhake, paremad pojad,” accompanied on piano by Thomas Kirves.
A presentation by the Eestlaste Kesknõukogu Kanadas was next, more specifically their representatives Aarne Tork and Brigid Zurock. The latter two made presentations to Leo Allas, who received the Silver Medal of Merit, and Alar Suurkask, who received the Gold Medal of Merit, respectively.
The main speaker of the aktus was Sirje Kiin, and the title of her speech was “The Development of the Estonian Identity and Mind Through Language and Literature.” Amongst other things, this speech used the works of seminal figures in the history of Estonian poetry to provide a comprehensive overview of the Estonian spirit amongst both “the century-old Estonian Republic and the millennias-old Estonian people.”
The aktus concluded with the Vancouver Estonian mixed choir Läänetuul performing four songs. After that, Society President Thomas Pajur made his closing remarks, which briefly touched on the future of free Estonia — its e-residency program, its position in the European Union, its cyber defence policy, and so on. The national anthem of the Republic of Estonia was then sung as the Vancouver Police Ceremonial Unit performed the flag recessional, and a champagne reception was held immediately following the aktus.
The ball portion of the evening was initiated by performances from a trio of folk dance groups, Koidik, Kilplased, and Kiivitajad; their dancing was a tribute to the seventieth anniversary of Estonian folk dancing in Vancouver. Following this, Masters of Ceremonies Arthur Kitching and Merike Kolga took over hosting duties, first focusing attendees’ attention on the President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid’s video greeting from earlier that day.
Harry Jaako then introduced the evening’s honoured guests, including the Honorary Consuls of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and of Estonia in Alberta, as well as more speakers. The first of these speakers was Bruce Ralston, British Columbia’s Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology. Ralston spoke about the economic relationship between British Columbia and Estonia (noting its near non-existence and emphasising the need to develop ties), as well as British Columbia’s underrated information technology sector, which he noted was heavily influenced by the rapid advance of Estonia after its digital revolution. After Ralston’s speech, grace was given by pastor Aivar Raudver.
The second speaker was Oleg Shvaikovsky, President of the American branch of Nortal. As dinner was being served, Shvaikovsky described the mission of his company, which is to provide digital solutions to civil problems, on a global scale. In the realms of medical care or banking, for instance, the ability to use online resources or pool information from a variety of databases allows people to manage important aspects of life from the comfort of their own homes, in a safe manner. As a consequence, instead of spending time travelling to and from offices or banks, people gain considerable amounts of time to work on other projects; society thus becomes more productive and efficient, which Shvaikovsky argued is the case with Estonia following its information-technological revolution.
Throughout the evening, guests were treated to numerous video greetings, including those made by the likes of Marina Kaljurand, Evelin Ilves, and Marko Mihkelson, as well as former Vancouverites Alar Olljum, Mart Laanemäe, and Toivo Klaar, amongst many others; these surprise greetings were meant to signify Estonia’s global reach as well as the togetherness of its people.
After more banter from the hosts and more comments by Harry Jaako, Ingrid Soide, the lead organiser of the ball, took a few moments to thank everybody in attendance, and all those who had contributed to the evening. The musical performances began during dessert, with Alan Matheson and his Jazz Ensemble the first to take stage; Raimond Valgre’s “Sinilind” was performed by the Vancouver women’s choir Leelo, accompanied by Matheson and company. Gerli Padar and The Moon, who had travelled from Estonia to celebrate EV100 in Vancouver, hit the stage after Matheson’s group, charming the crowd and inspiring them to dance until one in the morning. Spontaneous folk dancing also erupted at various points.
Feelings were overwhelmingly positive, both during the event and after. For many of the organisers, there was an odd feeling of restlessness; a night planned for over a year was itself over in a flash, and all the running around of those responsible had them miss many points of the evening. Regardless, the night was deemed a success by both organisers and (the hundreds of) attendees; it was an evening-cum-late night full of song and dance, food and drink, and pride towards Estonia. This pride was felt towards all aspects of Estonia, and to realise this one has to only look at the topics of the speeches given — the internal affairs of the country, its external relations with other political entities, the juxtaposition as well as continutiy between its spiritual (ethnic, linguistic, literary, cultural, traditional, etc.) past, and its innovative (digital, electronic, technological, etc.) future. As a celebration of Estonia, the event intended to capture Estonia in all of its diversity, and with this in mind its objective was achieved.
Photos: M. Tutti, A. Rohtlane, T & K Muld, J. Soide (2018)