For Simon Wookey, making a $150,000 donation to the new International Estonian Centre (IEC) to support the creation of a library is a heartfelt way to honour his family.
“The Library is for my grandparents because they taught me the value of knowledge and the power that resides in books,” Simon explains. “Naming a library after them is the most honest and natural way to honour them.”
Simon’s grandparents were strong role models. His grandfather Reverend Emanuel Lepik was an Estonian Orthodox priest and had congregations in both Toronto at St. Peter’s Church and in New York. His was a dedicated life. During the day he worked as an architectural project manager, and in the evenings and weekends wrote sermons and tended to his congregations.
His grandmother Maret was a school teacher who was gifted in languages. She learned to speak Swedish fluently – and taught in that language in Sweden - when they fled there from Estonia after the Soviet occupation. Prior to their escape to Sweden, they lived in Kuressaare, Saaremaa.
Simon, who was born in Toronto, earned a Masters in Urban Design and Planning from The Bartlett School of Planning in London, UK and plans to start his PhD in architecture next year. He lives with his wife Rebecca in Paris, and travels back and forth between London and Paris for work and research.
He comes by his interest in urban planning naturally. Simon’s father Dick Wookey was the developer behind the transformation of Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood in downtown Toronto, now one of the most prestigious areas in the city.
Simon is passionate about community organizing and served as a trustee for the South Kilburn Trust in central London. This community had a history of deprivation and substandard housing and is now undergoing a major regeneration with the construction of over 3,500 new homes for both market and affordable housing.
“What I was happy to accomplish during my time at the Trust was the construction of a new community hub, known as the Granville, which combined community space and affordable workspace,” Simon recounts.
The Wookey family is very much looking forward to the development of the new IEC.
“It’s a remarkable opportunity to give back,” said Simon’s mother Kersti Wookey, who was born in Estonia and lives in Toronto. “Incredible stories are being shared about how Estonians have created successful lives here, and we are coming together to develop this centre. We’ve been waiting for something like this to happen.”
Simon is forward-thinking and imaginative in his vision for the IEC and the future of Estonian culture and traditions.
“I would love for Toronto to be among the first of many centres where each one is linked together digitally. However, in a world where we can connect to each other from anywhere, it is important to remember that physical space matters as well,” he said.
“For such a small country, Estonia’s diaspora matters more now than ever - we need space to nurture and preserve our links and space to invite others into our community to share what we have.”
“Imagine Laulupidu (Estonia’s song festival) not just being broadcast but having modern space and the technology for people to participate live from centres around the world - a global choir!”
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