The strength and support of the Estonian community has always been a strong touchpoint for Anne-Mai Kaunismaa and her family.
Now, Anne-Mai is taking her turn at helping build a bright future with a $100,000 donation to the International Estonian Centre (IEC).
“This gift is from my family in memory of my husband Sulev Valdur, who passed away on December 20 of last year, four days before our 59th wedding anniversary,” she said. “He would be pleased and proud to support the future in this very meaningful way.”
Anne-Mai, who lives in Burlington, Ontario has three daughters: Liisa lives in New Jersey with her husband Dan and daughters Kariina and Kaila; Riina and Toivo live in Victoria Harbour near Midland, Ontario have two sons Karl-Lembit and Eerik and Tiina and Jamie live in Burlington and have a daughter, Victoria and a son Wesley. Tiina’s daughter Ingrid passed away several years ago.
Estonian traditions weave in to the Kaunismaa family through the generations. Wesley and his new wife Meg, who live in Boston, learned to dance “Tuljak”, a traditional Estonian folk dance, at their recent wedding in Cape Cod.
Fascinated by his Estonian roots, Wesley was also a counsellor at the Estonian summer camp.
“My grandchildren are very interested in their Estonian roots, which I think is very positive.”
This patriotism is also a strong tradition for the family.
“It was ingrained in us at a very early age to support the Estonian community no matter what.”
She remembers as well how her mother-in-law Marta, who lived to age 98, would regularly join demonstrations to support Estonian independence.
“The Estonian House was our second home for many years,” recounts Anne-Mai. “Our daughters went to Estonian school and guides, and became guide and cub-scout leaders. Both my husband and I served on the board of the Toronto Estonian House on separate terms and were deeply involved in many activities.”
Anne-Mai has direct experience with the reality of the current Estonian House on Broadview Avenue. She was the auditor for the board for several years, and witnessed how use of the house has declined and its condition deteriorated.
“The community is not using it any more, as they used to, they are going to other places to hold events, and it is simply not sustainable,” she said. “That’s why this new centre is so exciting. It will inject a feeling of enthusiasm and support in the community. I am very much looking forward to using it, meeting my friends there and going to what I’m sure will be many interesting events.”
She believes the downtown location of the IEC is a plus.
“It is easier for me to get to than the Estonian House on Broadview. I just hop on the Go Train from Burlington, and then catch the subway from Union Station to the Spadina station. This is really convenient for people who live in the city, and outside of the city as I do,” she explains.
She also says that having one central location will help bring and keep the Estonian community together. (The IEC will be located adjacent to Tartu College, a vibrant hub for Estonian events.)
Anne-Mai and Sulev Valdur were innovative businesspeople. They started a business called Kaval (which means “clever” in Estonian) – and it was exactly that. The couple developed a product that uses radio frequencies to enable communications in subway tunnels, and subsequently counted the Toronto Transit Commission and the transit authorities in Los Angeles and Turkey among their customers.
For Anne-Mai, the IEC represents the full circle of Estonian activities in which she’s been involved since a very young age. This included trips to Estonia every five years to celebrate her husband’s birthday, and the family visited there for the 2014 song festival to mark his 80th milestone. This past summer it was Estonia’s 100th anniversary and the 2019 song festival, and the Kaunismaa family traveled to Estonia to lay some of Sulev Valdur’s ashes next to his sister Endla’s resting place. Endla died in 1944 and is interred at Metsakalmistu, a cemetery in Tallinn.
“All six grandchildren were there,” she said. “My husband wanted very much to keep the Estonian spirit alive in Canada. We have done well, we are very fortunate to be here and I know he would be highly supportive of the fact that we are able to give back this way.”
Get involved and help support our future
The International Estonian Centre’s capital campaign donor categories are Kalevipoja Laud for gifts over $100,000 (including naming rights for specific areas), Viru Vanemad for gifts over $10,000, and Kungla Rahvas for gifts up to $10,000. The Kungla Rahvas campaign will launch in early 2020.
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DIGITAL Estonian Life No. 26 - June 30, 2022