By: David Sax/The Grid
At the Estonian House Café, meaty mains and deadly desserts bring the Baltic to Broadview.
At the Estonian House Café, part of a community centre on Broadview, north of Danforth, Tamara Norheim-Lehela grabs a seat at the table with her friends (all seniors), and pours herself a cup of coffee from the carafe on the table. They chat in a mixture of Estonian and English, reading Dr. Oz articles aloud and laughing at jokes, while ’70s pop songs, translated into Estonian, play overhead (including, oddly, “One Night in Bangkok”).
Since she arrived in Toronto in the early 1950s, as part of a wave of Estonians fleeing the country’s post-war Soviet occupation, Norheim-Lehela has spent an incalculable amount of her social life at Estonian House and its café. “At one time, I came here five times a week to take the kids to school, attend choir practice, dances, weddings, you name it,” she says, as one of her friends heads into the kitchen to request something directly from the café’s cooks.
The GTA’s Estonian community numbers around 12,000 to 15,000, according to Avo Kittask, the director and founder of Estore, a gift/book shop in Estonian House. Though many settled in the neighbourhood during the initial wave of mid-century immigration from Estonia, a Baltic state to the south of Finland, the population now lives all over the city. Estonian House is their central gathering point. Estonian children learn language and culture in the school, adults celebrate weddings in one of several banquet halls, sing and dance at nightly programs, hear lectures, play basketball, and even shoot in the indoor gun range. There are church officials present in the building, as well as Estonia’s diplomatic consulate.
Pass the pirukas! (1)