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New centre will be a beacon to bring together Estonians from all corners of the world

Update # 81

Capital Campaign Update:

The International Estonian Centre (IEC) project team is pleased to announced that good progress is being made on all aspects of developing the new home for the global and local Estonian community and that the Capital Campaign is resuming. The Toronto Estonian House sale closed on September 1, 2020 and the project is proceeding with next steps toward opening the new Centre in mid-2022.

For Helve Hess Barnett and Ryan Barnett of the U.S., the decision to become Viru Vanemad donors to the International Estonian Centre (IEC) will help keep the Estonian spirit burning bright within their family and beyond.

Helve and Ryan have lived in California since 2011, when a job offer from Google attracted them to the U.S. Helve is a lawyer, and Ryan is a Director on the Android team at the company’s headquarters. The donation the family made was matched dollar for dollar by Google.

The couple have three children: Aksel, 5; Teija, 3; and Villem,1.

Helve, whose parents are Allan and Riina Hess (the couple is spearheading the Viru Vanemad portion of the IEC’s Capital Campaign), was raised in Toronto’s active Estonian community.

“Estonian activities were a big part of my life when I was growing up,” Helve noted. “We would attend guides, Estonian school, and many other events several times a week; not to mention Estonian summer camps throughout the summer months.”

“Supporting this new centre makes me even more proud of my roots and allows me to feel connected to other Estonians. It will help keep our culture alive.”

Ryan, who is originally from Orillia, Ontario is right in step with this decision.

“When I married into the Hess family, it quickly became apparent that Estonian activities would be a big part of our world,” he laughs. “I really enjoy this part of our life. I am very proud and humbled to be part of this community.”

Besides looking forward to their own personal connection, Helve and Ryan are also excited about the international aspect of the new centre’s future mandate.

“The business accelerator planned to be included in the centre is a wonderful opportunity to build new Estonian business connections globally,” Helve said.

Ryan points out that the IEC’s high-tech features and capability will attract business opportunities as well as users who wish to rent the space.

“The scale of the project, and the modern and forward-thinking way the centre is being designed, matches its international focus and intent,” he said. “It won’t just be valuable for Torontonians, it will help build world-wide connections.”

The couple also plan to visit the IEC with their children during twice-yearly trips to Toronto, as they typically participate in Estonian activities when they come back to the city. They feel the downtown location next to Tartu College, known as the Bloor Street Culture Corridor - and home to major institutions such as the University of Toronto, the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Royal Ontario Museum - is a huge plus.

“It’s in such a vibrant, exciting part of the city,” Helve notes. “People will be attracted to come and see what we are all about, including Estonians who have perhaps not been active in the community.”

Helve says that being connected to the IEC will help their children retain their Estonian background, something she especially thought about this year when she attended the Estonian Independence Day celebrations in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“You can be sure when the kids are old enough, they will be coming, too!”

She adds that it will be very positive to have all Estonian activities in one location, rather than spread out in various locations as they are now, and that this will help build interest and participation in community events and cultural activities.

“It’s really something to be celebrated.”


Get involved and help support our future

Are you interested in helping build this spectacular new home for the global Estonian community? Please join our growing list of capital campaign donors! The International Estonian Centre’s donor categories are Kalevipoja Laud for gifts over $100,000 (including naming rights for specific areas), Viru Vanemad for gifts over $10,000, and Kungla Rahvas for gifts up to $10,000. Stay tuned for the launch of the Kungla Rahvas campaign in 2021.

To make a donation, please contact Urve Tamberg at

Donations may be made as a family gift, or in honour of an individual or family. All Canadian and U.S. donations will be issued a tax receipt.


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