April 8, 2022 was a historic day for Estonians in Canada and around the world, as an energetic crowd turned out to witness and celebrate the momentous event of breaking ground for KESKUS International Estonian Centre. Attending were Estonians, friends and families of Estonians as well as neighbours from the Annex area of Toronto in which KESKUS is located.
The sun did break through as the festivities progressed, but spirits were not dampened in the least by rain, as guests donned KESKUS hard hats and waved Estonian flags. It was as if the intrepid spirit of our Estonian ancestors swept through on a gust of rainy wind during a pivotal moment in the breaking ceremony.
As six year-old Berkeley, dressed in traditional Estonian folk costume, braved the elements, KESKUS project lead Ellen Valter and KESKUS development manager David Kalm poured sand through the girl’s outstretched hands. The sand was brought from Estonia’s shores and was poured into a container and mixed with soil from the site. This will be added to the foundations from which KESKUS will rise.
KESKUS will be the cornerstone of Estonian culture, business and community relations in Toronto and in North America. The centre will be built by the Estonian community in Canada and is the first of its kind in over half a century.
Special guest, the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor-General of Canada lives in Toronto’s Annex and noted that as a refugee herself, she understands well the bonds that tie Canada together.
“This is the beauty of Canada – we each bring our culture and contribute it to the fabric of Canada", she said. "Don’t ever forget where you come from. We must be united in our stand for freedom, and support countries around the world in their pursuit of independence.”
She said she is extremely interested in architecture and was delighted to learn that KESKUS architect was Alar Kongats. Madame Clarkson bestowed the first of Alar Kongats’ three Governor-General’s awards for architecture during her tenure as Canada’s head of state. “I just know that KESKUS will be a beautiful building.”
Madame Clarkson ended her comments with a poem by the late Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski, translated into English. Madame Clarkson said she and her husband, author John Raulston Saul, had the pleasure of spending many days with nominee Mr. Kaplinski at a Nobel Prize in Literature ceremony in Stockholm.
Liisa Käärid, chair of the Estonian Arts Centre board, praised KESKUS fundraising to date.
“We have made remarkable progress, and KESKUS fundraising is gathering momentum,” she commented. “I would like to thank our generous donors, many of whom are here today.”
Toronto city councillor Mike Layton made remarks at the ceremony, noting that his civic duties keep him primarily within the boundaries of his constituency, and thus has not yet visited Estonia, he is extremely impressed with the design of the building. “It will be a great addition to the vibrant Annex neighborhood of Toronto.”
Also making remarks was Toomas Lukk, Estonia’s Ambassador to Canada and long-time supporter of KESKUS.
“For KESKUS, this landmark international centre, to go from dream to reality is a great source of pride for Estonia and for Estonians everywhere,” says Ambassador Lukk. “With the Centre’s courtyard shaped like the borders of Estonia itself, we’re now one step closer to seeing the very map of Estonia fixed onto the heart of North America’s fourth largest city.”
“When Estonians first arrived in Canada, they daily endeavoured to keep Estonian heritage and culture thriving for generations to come, and KESKUS is the evolution of that drive,” says Ellen Valter, KESKUS project lead. “KESKUS will not only showcase what is Estonia and the Estonian diaspora, but it will be our global home, where we can share what it means to be Estonian, with each other and the world.”
Estonian Arts Centre co-vice chair Kaili Colford concluded the event by reading out some ‘love letters’ to KESKUS penned by those gathered to witness the ceremony, including "About KESKUS I'm most thankful that ... Our future dreams will put to rest the sorrows of the past" and “When I come to KESKUS I will bring ... my Estonian flag and my Toronto Maple Leafs’ hockey stick”.
Ready in 2023, KESKUS will be a 36,000 sq. ft. world-class, state-of-the-art home for Estonians around the world as well as an event and performance space for all. The multimillion dollar centre will bring prominence to Estonia and its culture, and launch business opportunities between Estonia and North America.
Relive the celebration! Video below:
Thanks to Kristina Laukkanen for the photos.
KESKUS valued donors make a critical difference!
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 email@example.com. 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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