Different paths lead to our own home
On January 26, 1951, at a meeting at the Finnish Club, a 15 member Estonian House Committee was set up: E. Salurand, J. Putnik, E. Raamat, E. Loo, H. Lehola, H. Männik, O. Roos, S. Suurkivi, G. Mitt, I. Raud, M. Tarum, G. Orav, A. Ketta, N. Bockfeldt and B. Bockfeldt. E. Salurand, I. Suurkivi, E. Loo, E. Kareda and G. Orav subsequently formed an Action Committee. The organization was incorporated, with Consul J. Markus at its helm. Initially, the share price was $10.
The Committee looked at over 50 properties, but when no suitable premises were found, it was decided to focus on finding a building lot. Fundraising efforts through organizations now turned to individuals. It was felt that every homeowner and worker should own $100 in Estonian House shares. This plan, existing only on paper for a number of years, did not succeed. A 1957 fundraising report revealed that only 55% of Toronto’s Estonians supported the purchase. One fifth felt that Estonians did not come together any more, and the younger generation did not need an Estonian House. (K. Eerme, “Aja ja sündmuste lood Toronto Eesti Maja saamisest.”)
Poor fundraising results, and a focus on planning the North American Estonian Days festival, caused the Saaremaa community to take up the initiative. They had already set up a fund in 1956, and tried to induce other Estonian regional organizations to set up funds of their own. Only the Mulks (southern Viljandimaa) responded. Efforts failed, and most monies had to be paid back. (Robert Kreem, “Uus algus.”)
In October, 1957, the Estonian House committee gathered in the basement of Mr. Waimel’s home. Their intention to purchase a synagogue at 703-709 College Street did not garner support. They met again to discuss fundraising and agreed: “Men, we will not give up until we have our own home!” They offered the option of donating money outright, or with a cheque that would only be cashed when an offer on a property was made. Every Estonian family’s responsibility was to be $100. Placards were posted, and J. Elland coordinated setting up a catalogue of Estonians’ addresses. The Action Committee, Robert Kreem as chairman, held many fundraising events. Success! By late fall, the “thermometer” on the wall of the Estonian Central Council of Canada had risen above $100,000! A Merton Street lot was purchased, but people were not happy. They grumbled that the property was in a “dry” (alcohol free) area and not suitable for social events. (Ludvig Raun, “Mälestuskilde Eesti Maja saamisloost.”)
By happy coincidence, Aino Raun discovered at a parents’ meeting at the Chester School on Broadview Avenue, that the school was to be put up for sale. She informed her husband Ludvig, who told the Estonian House executive. At the next meeting, M. Peeker suggested that they purchase the school. This idea did not gain immediate approval, and a Purchase Initiative Group was formed, M. Peeker, L. Raun and A. Sepa. H. Raigna and E. Ott also played important roles. After many Estonian House executive and Estonian regional organizations’ meetings, 958 Broadview Avenue was purchased. (Ludvig Raun, “Mälestuskilde Eesti Maja saamisloost.”) The capital from the 1960 sale of the Merton Street property formed the downpayment.
April 1, 1960, the day of the signing of the purchase agreement, was the birthday of the Estonian House, and already on April 5, 1960 the Toronto Estonian Men’s choir held its first rehearsal. The old schoolhouse was renovated by Estonian volunteers, and in the words of then Estonian House President Arvo Taagepera, was built not with words, but with deeds. Opening ceremonies took place on September 10, 1960. The Toronto Estonian Supplementary Schools and many other organizations flourished in their new home!
Taken from “Eesti Maja Torontos” - 1963, “Eesti Maja Torontos 1950 – 2000” and “Uus algus”, Robert Kreem’s memoirs.
Event tickets available at the Estonian House office, 416-461-7963, and .
REV. KALLE KADAKAS,
The Anniversary Committee
(To be continued.)
Toronto’s Estonian House - 50 enthusiastic years! Part III (1)