Honouring the legacy of the founders of Jõekääru is no easy endeavour. It has become a divisive issue among members of the Estonian Summer Homes Association (ESHA) as it contemplates a new social order or structure to take the place of the existing one, wherein Estonians have a say on how the place is run and their non-Estonian neighbours do not, despite paying the same $100 annual fee.
Currently, the basic setup at Jõekääru is simple. The Jõekääru Suvekodu Selts (JSS) operates the children’s camp and owns 57 acres outright. On these acres there are three bunkhouses, an art studio, sauna, pool, kitchen, eating area and dancehall. It is surrounded by 168 one-acre lots, owned individually by Jõekääru residents. Acting as a sort of buffer between Jõekääru property owners and the children’s camp is 144 acres of fields, forest and streams. ESHA and JSS own the 144 acres of parkland 50/50.
Jõekääru is unique among rural ethnic communities in Ontario because physically, socially and aesthetically it works. Most other non-urban ethnic communities have fallen into disrepair. Jõekääru is beautiful, its narrow gravel streets, lawns and public areas are well tended and there’s no litter to speak of. It is a proud community. The sound of children playing is now heard year-round. Footpaths in the fields and forests are well worn, and in the winter cross-country ski trails crisscross the land. Jõekääru stands out as a special place the moment you arrive. You couldn’t ask for a better homestead outside of a city to raise a family or to spend time.
Next door to Jõekääru is the Finnish community’s Cedar Club, same size (400 acres), but with a different social structure. Suffice to say, the Cedar Club is languishing, lacking completely the liveliness and beauty that is Jõekääru. A Polish encampment a few kilometres south of Jõekääru is now completely defunct. The list of failed and failing ethnic rural communities abound.
Jõekääru has been great for those who have stayed and for those that decided to sell, at prices no one ever imagined possible. Whether by design or not, Jõekääru works because its residents own outright their one-acre lots and have a collective stake in the 144 acres of land it shares with the children’s camp via membership in ESHA. For property owners, especially if you are Estonian, it’s a great deal.
Now members are being asked to consider destroying the legacy of Jõekääru’s founders because not everyone is Estonian. Relinquishing control of the parklands to an “auxiliary organization” creates unnecessary bureaucracy and distances those who benefit most by the parklands, mainly Jõekääru property owners.
Certainly ESHA needs to make itself a legal entity, but not at the expense of giving up its precious parklands. To do so is to risk the health of the community. Jõekääru works because property owners have a direct connection to the parklands. Better to say 50 years from now that it was Estonians who made this great place, not that it was once a great place.
Jõekääru at the crossroads (18)