The next generation of Estonian-Canadians have their focus firmly on a progressive and positive future
Krista Käis-Prial and Paul-Erik Veel always had a lot in common - and they even worked across the street from one another at one point - but they didn’t realize how much until the dating app Tinder matched them up in 2015 and they finally met face-to-face.
“We had mutual friends, and we both participated in Estonian events when growing up, but for some reason never ran into each other,” Krista laughs.
Krista and Paul-Erik are Viru Vanem donors to KESKUS International Estonian Centre, the new global centre under development now in downtown Toronto. They are making the donation in memory of their grandparents Juhan and Liina (Viira) Käis, Heldur and Silvia (Veerus) Meema, and Paul and Marie (Kääramees) Veel.
The couple, who are both lawyers, live in Toronto and have a 17-month old daughter Liina, who is named after Krista’s grandmother. Their second child is due in May.
Krista’s parents, both lawyers too, are Kadi Käis, a life-long enthusiast of all things Estonian, and the late Richard Prial, who, in addition to being Lithuanian, was also an Estophile. She has a brother, Thomas, who works in health care policy and administration in Toronto. Paul-Erik’s parents are Aivo Veel and Anne Meema.
Retracing grandfather's scholarly footsteps back to University of Tartu
Krista, B.A.H., B.C.L./LL.B., practices employment and labour law at boutique law firm Israel Foulon Wong in Toronto and specializes in employer and employee litigation and advisory work.
Krista studied English and French literature at Queen’s University and law at McGill University. She completed her final year of law school at Tartu University in Estonia where the curriculum focused on building a rule of law society in a post-Soviet world. Her grandfather Juhan Käis also studied law at Tartu University and his award-winning dissertation on constitutional law "Civil Liberties in the Estonian Legal Order, Their Development and Guarantees" rests in the archives there.
Juhan Käis was also a politician in Estonia, and held the position of Minister of Roads in the Government of Estonia “in exile” from March 1, 1964 until his death.
“It was an incredible experience living and studying in Estonia, and pretty amazing to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps,” she said. “It also gave me the opportunity to see how young Estonians are very interested in the world; they are global citizens, they love to travel and learn.”
It’s this energy and enthusiasm that Krista and Paul-Erik believe will drive the development and success of KESKUS.
KESKUS ignites interest in Estonian community
“For a long time, the Estonian community had zero interest for me,” Paul-Erik said. “The focus seemed to be on the past, but this is changing substantially now. It’s important of course to honour the past, but we have moved from surviving to thriving, and KESKUS is such a hopeful project. We are excited to be part of it.”
Paul-Erik, B.A., M.A., J.D., studied economics at McGill University and earned his law degree at the University of Toronto, graduating as the gold medalist of his law class. He then went on to clerk for Madam Justice Louise Charron at the Supreme Court of Canada. He works for the civil and commercial litigation firm Lenczner Slaght in Toronto, and is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto
After Krista and Paul-Erik met, they quickly learned how connected and compatible they are, and though much of this has to do with their deep Estonian roots, the couple say this is not the only thing that defines them.
“Being an Estonian Canadian can be a big part of your life, but it’s not your whole life,” Paul-Erik said. “Our generation of Estonians is very forward-thinking and involved in many other activities and cultures.”
“We are very interested in where the community is going in Toronto. It is changing; there is diversity, Estonians are married to people from other nationalities, there are people with different sexual orientations who are part of our community and generally it is more of a diverse crowd with unique experiences.”
“Everyone has to be made to feel welcome, it is necessary for our survival to be open-minded and inclusive.”
The couple also share a deep love of music. Krista was a member of the Toronto Children’s Chorus for many years and now sings with the acclaimed Mendelssohn Choir. When studying in Tartu, she joined the Tartu University Women’s Choir. She is also a trained classical pianist and plays the ukulele “for fun.”
Paul-Erik was a member of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra and spent his first year at McGill University studying percussion.
Value of connection for the next generation of Estonian-Canadians
Krista and Paul-Erik says they will definitely introduce their daughter to Estonian school at KESKUS.
“I can see myself taking Liina to school there, then grabbing a coffee at the bistro and meeting up with friends,” Krista says, adding that they speak Estonian with their daughter. “We will give her the choice of how she wants to be involved in the community.”
They have both learned that their Estonian heritage has been a valuable part of their lives, and that where they come from is profoundly important.
“We have such comfortable lives here,” Paul-Erik said. “Much of that is because of the sacrifices our parents and grandparents made.”
“When you’re young, you want to find your own way,” Krista adds. “I’ve discovered and know now there is value in the connection we have as Estonian-Canadians, and of having a home base.”
And that home base is the modern, forward-thinking KESKUS whose wide open spaces will be filled with the energy of Liina Veel and other young footsteps that will make their indelible mark there.
Please follow and support the KESKUS journey as it moves into and through construction. Please sign up for the KESKUS newsletter here. A community engagement session will be scheduled soon, for early March.
KESKUS valued donors make a critical difference!
KESKUS needs your support: please join the growing list of capital campaign donors. KESKUS International Estonian Centre’s donor categories are Kalevipoja Laud for gifts of $100,000 and above (including naming rights for specific areas), Viru Vanemad for gifts of $10,000 and above, and Kungla Rahvas for gifts under $10,000. KESKUS leadership donors are recognized here.
To make a donation please call +1.647.250.7136 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations may be made as a family gift, or in honour of an individual or family and leadership gifts can be paid over time. All donations are issued a tax receipt.
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