A tenacious beginning
As memories endure, so will a people endure. Bearing in mind this truth, I began to browse through the Toronto Estonian House’s history.
Distant in time, but historically relevant, was the 1787 Toronto Purchase, an agreement wherein the British Crown purchased almost all of the land between Lake Simcoe and Lake Ontario from the Mississauga Indians. Part of the purchase, 200 acres, went to Eli Playter. This was the beginning of the City of Toronto, a new city. The Estonian House would someday sit on this land.
As the city grew, the landowner found it increasingly difficult to administer these 200 acres. In 1890 the City of Toronto government bought, for $2,000, one acre of this land. Within one year they had built the Chester Hill schoolhouse on it. (Elle Rosenberg, “Indiaanlastest eestlasteni.”)
One schoolhouse among many, at first not one Estonian would study alongside the English, Scottish, Irish, French and Indian children. But all in due time, Estonian children would indeed someday study in this school.
The first Estonians arrived in the land of the maple leaf already in the late 1800’s. Alberta was home to the first Estonian community. The first Estonian in Toronto appears to have been Gustav Kulp. In 1912, he posted a message in his mother tongue onto a Queen Street lamppost. Not getting any response, he drew the obvious conclusions. By the 1930’s, there were already over 500 Estonians in Toronto. Although in Estonia the future overthrowers of the country were still kept under control, the battle here continued. But victory! The “red” Estonian association “Friendship” was closed and a more nationalistic one, “Progress” was founded. (Valdo Lillakas, “Eestlased Torontos”).
In the early 1950’s, fleeing from the ruins of war and the new threat of one of the victors, the first Estonian refugees arrived in Toronto. The escape route had had many stopping off points: Sweden, Germany, and England. Having experienced the shelter and camp life in Europe, many Estonians knew that this was not to be their permanent home. In the early years also, many harboured a hope that they might return home. But the continuing occupation of their homeland, coupled with the Estonians’ hard work and strong will led to the creation of a permanent home. (Robert Kreem, “Eesti Maja Torontos, meie kodupaik”). Already there were complaints about the crowded conditions in the church halls and cellars, restaurant back corners, and even the Finnish Club that offered a meeting place in the free Estonians new capital city. To keep future generations true to their Estonian roots, and ourselves from being swallowed up by the free world, we needed our own home! (Enn Salurand, “Eesti Maja Early years”).
The Toronto Estonians immediately set up an Estonian House Committee, electing Enn Salurand as their chairman. In 1952 they registered the constitution of the Estonian House Corporation. The Estonian Consul, Johannes Markus, was elected president of the Executive. In later years, that position was held by Elmar Hermann, August Kala, Endel Ott, Arvo Taagepera and Nikolai Valge. (Johannes Tanner, “Eesti Maja sündmuste kronoloogia”).
The setting up of our own Estonian House, however, was delayed. Most were busy setting up their own lives. Resources were not available for the necessary donations. The purchase of St. Andrew’s church and the building of St. Peter’s church came at a cost. At the same time, other properties were purchased that would become strongholds for Estonians: the Kotkajärve, Jõekääru and Seedrioru lands. (Robert Kreem, “Eestlased Torontos”). But in 1956, at the Saarlaste Association’s meeting held on St. George’s day, they decreed that there would be a Toronto Estonian House by the same day the following year. (Lembit Kolk, “Jüripäevaks olgu Eesti Maja”).
(Excerpts taken from “Eesti Maja Torontos 1950 – 2000” A/S Eesti Maja Torontos 2000)
(To be continued.)
Tickets available at ESTORE, 416-465-2219, Estonian House office, 416-461-7963, and from Ilo Puhm, 416-762-4392. Also at . If you have an Estonian Credit Union account, to pay for your tickets, just ask them to transfer the money to the Estonian House 50th Anniversary account.
Toronto’s Estonian House - 50 enthusiastic years! Part II