The vision of a globally connected and vibrant gathering place for Estonians in North America and around the world is the driving force behind the new International Estonian Centre (IEC) in Toronto. To help make this vision a reality, the IEC’s Steering Committee members and advisors have collectively pledged $1 million toward its capital campaign. The Steering Committee is comprised of dedicated volunteers from each of the four organizations which are cooperatively leading the project; Veiko Parming and Glen Leis (Toronto Estonian House), Ellen Valter and Mihkel Liik (Estonian Credit Union), Eva Varangu and Mihkel Holmberg (Estonian Foundation of Canada), Jaan Meri and Peeter Einola (Tartu College) and Tom Koger (advisor).
The Steering Committee is responsible for strategic direction and oversight of all components of the project (planning, design, building, legal, finance and operations) to ensure the centre’s completion.
“One million dollars from people who have already donated hundreds if not thousands of hours of volunteer time to this project is simply extraordinary,” said IEC Steering Committee chair Ellen Valter. “These financial gifts further demonstrate the commitment of those working on this project to ensure that we create a world class beautiful, functional and sustainable home for our local and global community.”
The IEC will be a vibrant hub for Estonians of all generations and backgrounds to celebrate and share our culture and achievements with each other and the world. Designed by award-winning Canadian-Estonian architect Alar Kongats, it will have space for Estonian cultural activities, a café/bistro, flexible event spaces, of which the main hall can accommodate up to 330 seated guests, a landscaped rooftop space, and animated public square that is shaped after the map of Estonia.
The capital campaign is well underway with Kalevipoja Laud ($100,000+) and Viru Vanemad ($10,000+) levels of donors totalling over $6 million in pledges received. Stay tuned for the launch of the Kungla Rahvas donation levels (under $10,000) in the coming months. The IEC is scheduled to open in 2021.
The Steering Committee in their own words: Why we are giving
By giving to this project to the best of my ability financially too, I am doing my part, as did my parents and grandparents, to help ensure that our community will remain vibrant, evolving, and able to offer to subsequent generations of Estonians the opportunities and the sense of community that I have enjoyed. And, as an added bonus, it’s an honour to work alongside so many talented people on a project of such significance and beauty.
Ellen Valter, Chair
The reason for my gift is twofold. I view the project as a catalyst for our cultural and community rejuvenation for generations to come. On a more personal note, I want to recognize the contributions of my parents, Edgar and Edna, and my brother Allan. They have given so much of themselves to the Estonian community over the years. This gift is my way of honouring their legacy. I know that if Al was still with us, he would have been a huge proponent of the project both as a generous donor and an active participant.
Both gratitude for what the Estonian community has given me and a desire to reinvigorate the community for my children and future generations has compelled me to give. Please consider what the Estonian community has meant to you, how it has been a positive influence on you and perhaps your children, and how you want this legacy to continue. Also consider what our parents did for us in creating the Estonian House and many other fantastic Estonian Institutions. We should not expect any less of ourselves. “
I am doing this for my grandchildren, and to build greater awareness for Estonian culture and ingenuity. Tartu College will be getting an ideal neighbour, and the synergy of having the community in one location - an architecturally exciting space - will be extremely positive. I’m looking forward to what is sure to be a fantastic opening party!
I have been an active volunteer in the community, in a variety of roles, for the better part of my life. I have been able to work together with many talented people for the greater good of the community. Contributing both volunteer time and money to our new community home is also very fulfilling. Seeing it through to completion will reaffirm the strength of our community both now and for the future. It will be home to the local Estonian community for decades to come and a place of welcome for Estonians from around the world. I am proud to be a part of this initiative and to work together with the many talented volunteers on this project to make it a reality.
I have always been impressed, perhaps even in awe, of all that our parents’ generation built not long after arriving in Canada. All of them suffered the war, and most arrived empty-handed. Yet in little more than a decade, they built community centres, churches, summer camps, folk dance and gymnastics organizations, a credit union, Estonian schools, and more. Our generation – who lived in peace - benefitted greatly by their sacrifice and hard work. It’s now time for our generation to step up and build something that honours our parents, and will benefit not only our generation, but our children’s’ as well for many years to come. We have no excuse not to.
I am grateful to my grandparents’ generation for instilling in me such a deep pride in our shared heritage: uhke on olla eestlane! I want to show that we, too, can build a special place for our community that future generations of Estonians can be proud of. My vision for the centre is that it will be a mini-Estonia in Toronto - a place that will immerse younger generations in everything that is fun, leading-edge, distinctive, and beloved about Estonia.
My hope for this remarkable project is that this new facility becomes a gathering place for Estonians from all around the world. Many of the large donations are coming from Estonians who are looking to reconnect with their culture. This reconnection hopefully will be broad-based. I am very much looking forward to connecting with Estonians I have never met before on Madison Avenue!
My donation is in honour of my grandparents and my parents, all of whom knew what could be achieved through determination, perseverance and cooperation. This new Centre is the embodiment of community cooperation and will be a beacon for all Estonians. I remain hopeful that our children and their children will continue to care deeply about their heritage and what makes them special in this world. We are and remain Estonians no matter where we live. The International Estonian Centre will help keep our culture and language alive, to connect with each other, and to showcase our tiny, feisty motherland.
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DIGITAL Estonian Life No. 45 - November 8, 2019
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