I recently became aware of an English language paper, (published semi-annually) called the Kingstonian Estonian.
When I contacted the publisher Eva (Eichenbaum) Barnes, I was invited to the second annual Kingstonian Estonians’ Suvine Koosviibimine, an old fashioned fun Estonian style country picnic. The event was held Saturday afternoon, July 8, 2006, at the cottage of Anu, Eva and Reet Taavet located on Carpenter’s Point, Wolfe Island.
Participants were requested to arrive at the Kingston pier early to board the 11:30 ferry for the 25 minute crossing. People were asked to have a blue ribbon or Estonian flag to identify their car in the convoy and so it happened.
The meal was an excellent buffet style luncheon rivalling most high end hotels with emphasis on Estonian dishes. Anu Taavet had compiled a handy cook booklet after their first picnic titled “Buffet and Coffee Table Favourites from Estonia” or Külmlaud ja Kohvilaud. Copies of this are still available for a small fee and can be ordered from Anu at 613-389-5881.
The very enjoyable picnic ended with the singing of Estonia’s national anthem. Eva Barnes provided accompaniment on her accordion with Eerik Altosaar directing. Prior to singing, Eva recited the words out loud and translated them into English so that everyone knew what they meant. The crowd was evenly split between those who spoke Estonian (with varying degrees of “rustiness”) and spouses that did not and included people from all three generations of our Diaspora.
Kingston, Ontario, a picturesque small city similar in size and function to Tartu, Estonia, does not have an Eesti Selts per se. The group was started two years ago by Eva Barnes, a former Seedrioru kasvandik from Niagara Falls, Ontario. After living on Vancouver Island for 15 years, she moved to Kingston, where she did not know a single person. While in Victoria, a small group of women, which included Eva, had built up an "Estolaste ring" of about 100 people over the course of five years.
She wonders whether the success of the Victoria experience might have been attributed to the fact that it was not based on the formulae and expectations that had been firmly established for some Estonian Expatriate societies in large cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver during the early 1950s. With the hope of being inclusive and welcoming, especially regarding those who did not speak Estonian fluently, some unconventional approaches were tried. Vabariigi Aastapäeva dinner celebrations were conducted almost entirely in English, except for the recitation of poetry. The chosen themes were about connecting with roots and fondly remembering good childhood experiences that had a distinctively Estonian character.
The development of the unique Estonian-Canadian community in Victoria was experimental in many ways. Eva felt that being removed from places where set patterns had been long established, and the somewhat "laid back West Coast" attitude that prevailed during group activities probably helped achieve and sustain a positive outcome.
Anyway, once in Kingston she wondered whether there were people of Estonian background living there. She was told that there were not and that there had never been a local Estonian selts. Given her background in public relations and communications, she decided to place a large ad with a photo of a few rahvatantsijad in three Kingston newspapers with the headline "Calling All Estonians". Much to her surprise 27 people of varying ages and backgrounds who didn’t know each other responded. So here they are, a small group that enjoys getting together to celebrate their roots in unlikely settings.
Eva was surprised and delighted and Kingston no longer seemed like such a bleak and lonely city anymore. She found an extended family of sorts and made three very good friends of her own age who also value their Estonian heritage.
Those of you reading this in smaller locations who may be missing your roots, particularly internet readers, take note. You may not be the only person with Estonian roots in town. All you have to do is take the initiative and advertise. For sure something good will come of it.
Kingstonian Estonians (1)