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Donor profile: Eha and Don Naylor

Update #183

Embracing and responding to change will lead to stronger future

Resiliency and adapting to change is a thread that has woven through Eha Naylor’s life since she was a young girl growing up in the Estonian community in Toronto.

It started at her parents’ knee as she absorbed and was influenced by their experiences coming to Canada as immigrants and working hard to build their lives here.

It continued in her professional life as a landscape architect as she adapted her focus over the years to respond to a changing environment engulfed by climate change. In the past few years she’s been working with the federal government on the Long Term Vision Plan update for Parliament Hill in Ottawa. She’s part of a team of architects, landscape architects, engineers, climate specialists, planners and other technical professionals who are tasked with developing strategies for how the federal campus can grow and evolve while preserving the cultural and natural heritage of one of Canada’s most significant national symbols and historic sites.

And now, she is championing the Estonian community’s vision to create a progressive, resilient and inclusive future through the development of KESKUS International Estonian Centre.

Eha and Don support the KESKUS vision

Eha and her husband Don, who live in Brampton, Ontario, are Viru vanemad donors to KESKUS and they couldn’t be more on board with supporting a strong future for all Estonians.

Don, who has been involved in community development for his entire career, is also a staunch supporter and was touched by the immigrant story after meeting Eha and her family. “He has really embraced the culture and is behind this donation whole-heartedly,” she says.

Eha and Don met as students at the University of Toronto, where they both studied landscape architecture. They graduated in 1980 with Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degrees and each set up individual practices. Eha went on to earn a Master of Business Administration degree in 1989 from York University’s Schulich School. Eha and Don are both Fellows of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects.

Eha points to how the world is changing right in their own backyard in Brampton. Their home is in the Credit River valley, and the property was a challenge to tame for the young couple when they bought it 30 years ago.

Naturally, their pioneer spirit as newly graduated landscape architects enabled them to see its potential.

“When we bought this house and property, we didn’t have a great deal of money and it needed a lot of work,” she recalls. “We were surrounded by farms and strawberry fields. Now, I can walk to several major banks and the GO train into the city is a five-minute drive away.”

Change is inevitable; it’s not a question of “if,” but “when.” And it’s how we respond, that matters.

Now is the time to look forward

Eha points to the valuable work her parents’ generation undertook and the vision they had when settling in Toronto to create a home for the Estonian community.

Her mother and father, Agnes and Osvald Kuutan, came to Canada via separate paths. Agnes was studying English and German at a university in Hamburg, Germany when the Soviets invaded Estonia in1944 and was unable to return home. Osvald came from a family of fishers and farmers in Pärnu, he had ready access to the sea and a boat that enabled him and his cousins to escape from Estonia to Sweden. They met and married in Toronto.

The Kuutans recognized the importance of having a cultural home for the community, and bought shares in the former Estonian House. They made sure their daughter was involved in activities such as Estonian School, the summer camp Jõekääru, and Kalev rhythmic gymnastics.

“Now is the time to look forward, not back,” Eha believes. “We need to build on what our parents accomplished, think ahead and plan for future generations.”

Eha and Don’s sons Rein and Burton are also involved in the Estonian community and have made lifelong friends through their summers at Jõekääru Estonian Children’s Camp and now as members of the korp! Vironia fraternity. Rein has just completed his residency as a physician, specializing in geriatrics and primary care, and Burton is an IT security specialist.

“Being Estonian is part of their identity,” confirms Eha. “KESKUS will help ensure they and the generations after them have a place to gather, a place where they can keep their cultural connections.”

KESKUS design is thoughtful and appealing

“How the building will integrate into the urban fabric of the city is one of its strong points,” Eha commented. “It’s an intelligent use of space that reaches out to the surrounding community.”

“It’s extremely important that KESKUS is inclusive in how it functions. We want to welcome others, not be insular.”

Eha also appreciates the incorporation of natural elements in the building’s design. It encompasses “values Estonians hold close to their hearts,” through elements like the rooftop garden and courtyard.

Many exciting possibilities ahead for KESKUS

Eha underscores the need for flexibility. “We must be able to respond to changing needs and new ideas, and the possibilities for how KESKUS can be used are really exciting. I see its operational style as being inclusive and integrating into the fabric of the city.”

She cites how the new centre’s flexibly designed spaces will be able to accommodate a range of activities and evolve to meet future needs.

“The sky’s the limit!”

Another key feature, she emphasizes, is the superb downtown location in the heart of Toronto’s cultural and academic community, and also right next to Tartu College.

“This location, with its close proximity to public transit is excellent,” she adds. “It’s one of the most positive aspects of the new centre. People need to be able to get there easily and have options other than driving.”

Academic connections can also be nurtured

KESKUS is on the doorstep of the University of Toronto, and Eha is enthusiastic about potential linkages.

University buildings with sports field in foreground
Photo: University of Toronto

“U of T is one of the top two public universities in North America and is very active in its interaction with the city’s people and organizations,” she said. “It’s an exemplary institution with an excellent reputation in the academic community.”

Eha, who retired just a month ago, has already plunged into a new volunteer role and was recently elected to the Governing Council as an Alumni Governor at the University of Toronto. She believes in advancing new connections between the university and KESKUS.

She hopes to expand opportunities for students from Estonia to study at the university.

“And with KESKUS close by, they will already have a home here,” she says.

Why the Naylors became KESKUS donors

The Naylors believe in supporting the future of the Estonian community, and Eha admits to feeling a bit emotional about their decision to become KESKUS donors.

“I feel like I’ve received more than I’ve given,” she said. “Through this donation we will be able to do our part, and help remember and recognize all those who came here before us. They did so much enable us to have a better life and we should do the same for future generations.”

Eha and Don have spent a lifetime designing spaces that work for people and reflect the changing world around them. They know how a thoughtful, creative and responsive design can enhance a community’s hopes and dreams.

“We want to be part of creating this pride of place, to believe we have made a difference and helped people we know, and people we don’t know.”

Get involved and help support our future

Please join our growing list of capital campaign donors to help bring this extraordinary project to completion.

KESKUS leadership donors are recognized here. To make a donation, please call +1.647.250.7136 or email Donations may be made as a family gift, or in honour of an individual or family. All donations are issued a tax receipt, in Canada by Estonian Arts Centre, US tax receipts by KBFUS and Estonian tax receipts by Eesti Rahvuskultuuri Fond.

Let’s keep in touch!

  • Visit the KESKUS website for all the latest news

  • Sign up for the KESKUS monthly email newsletter

  • Follow us on Facebook @EestiKeskus, Twitter @keskus, Instagram @keskus.iec


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