Calling all Estonians from every corner of the world to get on board
The Ruberg and Patterson families have a heartfelt message to all far-flung Estonians: it is more important than ever to pull together and create a hub where we can connect and celebrate.
“We encourage everyone with even a drop of Estonian blood to step forward and support KESKUS,” said Ruth Patterson (Merits). “Especially now, Estonia is threatened, and we need to support this fantastic effort to keep the community together and strong.”
Ruth, a retired speech language pathologist, and her physician husband Andy Patterson live in Stouffville, Ontario. Her sister Ingrid and husband Kalev Ruberg call Whistler and West Vancouver, B.C. home.
Their Viru Vanemad donation is in memory of their parents Naani and Raoul Merits, and Endel and Aliise Ruberg.
Strong Montreal community gave this family their start
Ruth, Ingrid and Kalev grew up in the tightly-knit, active Montreal Estonian community. Ingrid, a retired architect and ski instructor, and Kalev, who is Chief Innovation Officer for Canada’s largest mining company Teck Resources Limited, lived in Toronto for 11 years. They have a son, Taavo, who lives in Vancouver. Kalev’s brother Toomas is in Kamloops, B.C.
Ruth and Andy have two sons: Erik Rein and his partner Jordann Zaza live in Hamilton and Russell Jaan and his wife Jessica Kozak live in Calgary and have three daughters: Avery, 8, Lucy, 6 and Sydney, 2.
“We had a wonderful childhood and did everything together with other Estonians,” Ingrid said. “Even though our parents were part of the Ottawa and Montreal Estonian communities, we know they would have realized the importance of a central meeting point and would have been proud to support KESKUS in Toronto.”
All three were in the Montreal-based folk troupe “Vikerlased” – singing, dancing and playing melodicas. They recall how as children they effortlessly became tri-lingual, learning French, English and Estonian.
“Montreal was very multi-cultural, even in those early days,” Ruth said, "and we learned to embrace each language. We subsequently sent all our children to French immersion schools.”
“It makes sense to have Toronto -- the city with one of the largest, culturally active Estonian populations outside Estonia -- as the location for the North American hub of Estonian culture,” added Kalev. “But it does need to be more than a cultural centre. We need to have a political presence and a space where ‘eesti hing’ can flourish.”
Parents embodied Estonian spirit
Kalev comes by his political interest naturally. His father Endel Ruberg was a strong-minded political activist who was a regular presence at Ontario’s summer camp Jõekääru, where he taught leathercraft along with a hefty dose of Estonian patriotism.
“It was a very effective combination of political activism through art,” Kalev said. He also recalled how his father hoisted the Estonian flag every day for 100 days at the Boy Scouts of Canada international pavilion in Montreal during Expo ’67. “He was very determined that people know about Estonia.”
Endel was a ‘Soomepoiss,’ an Estonian regiment of the Finnish army. When the Russians invaded during World War II, the Estonian army was decimated and most officers sent to Siberia, where they perished. The Soomepoisid went to Finland and continued to fight the Russians. Most of his family remained in Estonia, although one brother found his way to Toronto.
He met and married Aliise in Sweden before settling in Canada which welcomed many waves of "displaced persons" during and after the war.
Aliise escaped the Soviet invasion because her father had a large ship he used as a trading vessel in the Baltics to haul lumber. He was able to accommodate 400 escapees from Hiiumaa, and they made their way to Sweden. Some of her extended family remained in Sweden and others settled in Toronto where there is a large number of other displaced "hiidlased.”
Although a trained schoolteacher in Hiiumaa, Aliise worked as a bookkeeper in Montreal. She followed her calling as an Estonian school teacher in the Montreal Estonian community.
Naani Kallion and Raoul Merits each found their way to Canada after escaping the Soviet invasion and later met and married in Montreal.
Naani, her sister Minna, and her mother Julia spent several years in one of the many DP camps in Germany. Naani briefly studied medicine at the Baltic University in Hamburg before settling in Montreal where she worked in the laundry department at Alexandra Hospital, and later as a bank teller. Naani sponsored her sister and mother to join her in Canada. Her father, Jaan, was unable to escape from Estonia and they never saw him again.
Raoul, at age 19, had been a student in Tartu when the war broke out. His father August Merits was the Minister of Energy for the Estonian government, as well as the Polish consul, and was one of the first to be deported from Tallinn to Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia—with his wife Salme and daughter Ruth—where he died shortly afterward. Raoul managed to evade deportation by going into hiding and he survived the war years in Berlin as a student and flower merchant.
Raoul started out as a farm labourer in Ottawa, studied to become a mechanical engineer in Montreal, and worked most recently in that capacity with Atomic Energy of Canada in Ottawa.
A hope for the future
The Ruberg and Patterson families have their sights firmly fixed on the future and know that KESKUS will play a central role in ensuring cultural longevity for the Estonian diaspora.
Kalev and Ingrid, both trained as architects, are impressed with the design of KESKUS.
“It will be a beautiful, modern space that reflects a new generation of Estonians,” Kalev remarked. “I am also very impressed with how it’s come together. There is an amazing amount of competence in the planning, the design, and in the collaboration and outreach to everyone who will be using it.”
They hope KESKUS will be a welcoming, inclusive environment where people from many communities can come together.
“There needs to be outreach to the broader population, so there is awareness and support for Estonian history and culture,” Ingrid remarked. “If it’s going to an international centre this has to be represented in cultural events and other activities.”
In fact, it is essential for our future.
“Small cultures are always in danger,” Ruth said. “KESKUS has to mean something for all of us. It has to make us excited and connected. Without that, there is no anchor to hold us all together.”
Our group of valued donors is making a critical difference!
Join the growing list of capital campaign donors! KESKUS International Estonian Centre’s donor categories are Kalevipoja Laud for gifts of $100,000 and above (including naming rights for specific areas), Viru Vanemad for gifts of $10,000 and above, and Kungla Rahvas for gifts under $10,000. KESKUS generous donors are listed on the KESKUS website.
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DIGITAL Estonian Life No. 26 - June 30, 2022