It's hard to believe that Jõekääru's worst enemy is the board of directors of the Estonian Summer Homes Association (ESHA) and its trustees. The very group entrusted with the care of Jõekääru on behalf of all property owners are the same people rushing headlong toward dismantling one of the grandest achievements of Estonians in Canada by giving away the community’s beloved 50-per-cent interest in 144 acres of parkland owned jointly with the Estonian Children's Camp and making preparations for the sale of individual lots for housing that are scattered throughout the community.
Jõekääru is a picturesque rural enclave, created by Estonians in the early 1950s in Udora, Ont. It has flourished ever since. However, according to the logic of the ESHA board and its trustees, property owners at Jõekääru must now accept unwanted housing development and further environmental degradation because the ethnic flavour of our community has changed. Long-time resident Silvi Marriott says, "The present ESHA board seems unwilling to accept this reality and by their insistence on excluding these new residents, is running into financial difficulties." Many Estonians at Jõekääru are left scratching their heads in wonder at ESHA’s plans, saying: “We’re still here. Jõekääru is still a place for Estonians. Why must we suffer because some of our neighbours are non-Estonian?”
Silvi says: "Why are we now so desperate for money that we need to sell off our land? Is it because we are excluding the new owners and have thereby reduced our membership income?" The ESHA board claims that the Association needs to divest itself of all the community's treasured land assets because it cannot afford the property taxes, about $5,500 yearly.
Jõekääru resident Tom Hlavacek says ESHA's reasoning for selling and giving away everything it owns because it will save money "is plainly unconvincing given the actual costs involved." He says, "The tax burden associated with the ESHA-owned properties is basically negligible -- and something of a red herring in these discussions."
Sivli says, "Why can we not simply follow or own constitution and accept all property owners as members? The ESHA constitution does not require members to be Estonian. It states, 'Membership is open to holders of property within the area of the Jõekääru farm.'" Specifically the ESHA constitution, written in Estonian, says, "Liikmeteks võivad olla Jõekääru talu maaaladel olevate kruntide pidajad." Indeed, respecting the Association's constitution (not to mention the Canadian Charter or Rights and Freedoms) as it is written and not banning our Canadian non-Estonian neighbours from membership in ESHA easily resolves the community's financial issues.
Jõekääru resident Howard Eisenberg questions whether ESHA has "the legal right [under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms] to change the status of the Jõekääru" parklands and private landholdings "without the proper consultation of all the landowners and/or residents in the defined area."
Mr. Hlavacek says: "In my opinion ESHA's big mistake, which may prove fatal, is not looking to the non-Estonian residents for input and support (financial and other). I believe there is a great deal of goodwill and resources within our community which could be leveraged to protect the parklands and help the camp survive into the future. However, as long as ESHA refuses to do this, little can be accomplished."
In fact, Mr. Hlavacek says: "Perhaps the time has come for Jõekääru property holders to obtain some outside legal advice in this matter. While I am still hopeful that all stakeholders will eventually see the need to seek common ground and work toward a satisfactory solution, it might be prudent to find out what our options are if this proves not be the case."
Silvi insists, "Other possibilities must be considered." She says, "Let us not rush into breaking up the community and selling off/giving away our assets. That would not benefit anybody in the long run or guarantee that this wonderful little corner of the world remains Estonian."
Another long-time Estonian Jõekääru property owner stated publicly in an e-mail forum, "I have seen instances in other Esto situations, where things are seen as a cash cow for various individuals. We don't know who will be at the helm of Jõekääru in the future, what their motivations are, and whether we really want the decisions to rest with them. Things are moving too quickly, and without balanced decision making."
Jõekääru resident Kalle Naelapea says, "The problem has been that ESHA is not even asking Estonian members for input and support."
A non-Estonian Jõekääru resident in an e-mail forum said: "We ALL came here because we love what you've done here. Nothing serves us better individually or as a group than keeping what we have and continuing the legacy we've been left with."
This resident went on to say: "We all want our green spaces protected to the utmost … and we want to feel a part of our community, not like unwanted pests. I personally think that's a pretty good start. I really hope the Estonians don't feel like this is a hostile takeover... because it isn't. We want what you want, you just don't know it because you didn't ask."
That is the complaint of a large number of Estonian property owners too, there has been very little, if any, open discussion concerning the negative consequences of the changes ESHA proposes.
ESHA member Krista Soots/Marchildon says, "I believe these issues are too important to be decided sort of behind closed doors without a nitty-gritty, free-ranging discussion that explores all angles."
In an e-mail forum another Jõekääru non-Estonian resident said: "Together (key word) we need to develop a solid argument convincing the naysayers that conservation is the way to go and that non-Estonian property owners want to maintain the culture of this community. An open discussion on the pros and cons of conservation is a great place to start."
An Estonian Jõekääru resident that wishes to remain anonymous says: "Jõekääru was never meant to be an investment property. It is there because of the Estonians love for nature and to promote their proud heritage. … Promoting the Estonian heritage is not about keeping the English out. As opposed to the Russians who moved into Estonia with the express goal of Russification, the English move to Jõekääru for nature and affordable housing. Destroying the Estonian heritage is the last thing on their minds. … It takes time and effort to promote ones heritage and there is only so much of that. Let's not waste it by trying to keep a non-existent threat out but rather concentrate on promoting the Estonian heritage. Certainly having as much as possible of Jõekääru nature safeguarded will help with that. As Jõekääru becomes more of a focus for Estonian heritage, more Estonians will be drawn in and the presence of the English will be nothing more than a reminder that we are, after all, in Canada."
ESHA is holding it annual general meeting at the Estonian Children's Camp in Jõekääru on Sunday, May 16, at 10:30am. As Mr. Naelapea says, "It is the last chance to do anything. If no action is taken, it's game over." People who love Jõekääru and nature and believe in the equal treatment of all Canadians would be well advised to attend this critical AGM.
The forgotten Estonian (7)