Donor Profile: Tiina and Jaan Timusk, inaugural members of KESKUS' Koidula gild level of giving

Updated: Apr 19

Update #138

A strong sense of adventure and pride drive this couple’s commitment


Helju Viilup had to think fast about how to make ends meet when she and her two young daughters found themselves in Sweden after escaping the Russian invasion into Estonia in 1944. These images come to mind today, when watching what is happening in Ukraine. Husband Riho stayed behind to help other escapees and it was up to Helju and her two small children to survive. Tiina was 5 and Kersti 2.


"We were hiding at my aunt Ira’s farm and managed to harness her horse and carriage and get to Tallinn,” recalls Tiina. “We sat on a pile of straw and made it to the port in Tallinn. There we were squeezed into an overcrowded boat, Triinu. To get some panicked passengers to disembark, they announced that the ship was going to Germany, not Sweden. Many passengers disembarked. We stayed on and got to Sweden.


“We never saw our father again.”


“We were survivors”


After staying in refugee camps, Helju worked as a housekeeper for the wealthy Krueger family on their estate. Helju decided that she could do better. She fibbed that she had gone to medical school and was able to get a job as a lab technician. She practiced and read books on laboratory techniques and kept her job. This resulted in a solid career that continued for the rest of her working life, and she was able to support her daughters through university after arriving in Canada. Helju worked at the famous Charles H. Best institute – Dr. Best was one of the co-discoverers of insulin.


“We were survivors,” Tiina said.


Jaan’s mother, Alide Timusk also escaped to Sweden with her two sons, Thomas, 11 and Jaan, 9. Jaan’s father, Evald, stayed behind, working in the underground to help others escape. He was caught by the Gestapo and sent to the Patarei Prison in Tallinn. He later managed to escape and joined his family in Sweden.


After spending seven years in Sweden, Baltic refugees, fearing that Sweden would capitulate to the Soviet Union's demand to have the refugees sent back to their homelands, many underwent a second exodus. With support from the International Refugee Association, Tiina’s and Jaan’s families came to Canada and landed at Pier 21 in Halifax, the port through which many immigrants came to Canada to build new lives. Their paths would cross in Toronto, many years later.


Jaan and Tiina’s life together begins


Jaan and Tiina met at a special dinner organized by Eesti Üliõpilaste Selts, (Estonian Students’ Society). EÜS had invited the widows of deceased members, and Tiina’s father had been a member in Estonia. Tiina, 16, was seated beside Jaan ,19, who spent the whole evening rehearsing his speech! Like a well brought up Estonian young man, however, he did ask her mother if he could take Tiina out. And so it began. They have now been married for 62 years.


Tiina and Jaan both went to the University of Toronto. Tiina earned her degree in Physical and Health Education and later specialized in Special Education. She taught in high schools in Canada, a convent in England, and in psychiatric hospitals and jails in Canada and Estonia. She belongs to korp! Filiae Patriae, A.K.E.N., and the Estonia Choir.


Jaan is a Professor Emeritus from the University of Toronto, where he earned his Bachelors and Master’s Degrees in Civil Engineering and he received his Ph.D. from the University of London Queen Mary College. He was a minister in the Estonian Government in Exile, until Estonia regained its independence in 1991.


Christopher, Deirdre, Lukas, Matti

Tiina and Jaan have two sons, who are both continuing the family teaching legacy. Paul Christopher is a Professor of Engineering at George Brown College in Toronto and his wife Deirdre is a vice-principal at Havergal College. They have two sons, Lukas, 18 and Matti, 15.

Markus, Deirdre, Kalev, Alissa, Willem

Markus Ain is a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Laurentian University, and is married to Deirdre O’Reilly, who is a pharmacologist. They have three children: Kalev, 16, Alissa, 13 and Willem, 9.


Tiina and Jaan share a keen sense of adventure and curiosity, and the couple have travelled and worked in a number of countries and settings, each pursuing their careers and interests while doing so. They spent two years in England while Jaan attended university. Tiina taught Physical Education at a Catholic convent operated by nuns.

They also spent a year in Estonia where Jaan lectured at the Estonian Technical University in Tallinn and Tiina ran a school in a mental hospital.


Another year was spent in Sweden where Jaan went to study building science on how to build houses to reduce global warming. This became the focus of his career. Tiina taught conversational English to Swedish businessmen.


The family has always been active in the Estonian community, the Estonian school, scouts and Jõekääru, a childrens' camp. Most of their best friends are Estonian. “The new KESKUS will enable us to connect with our friends and proudly show off our heritage and culture to other Canadians.”


Jaan has been involved in Toronto’s Estonian community from the ground up. He is a former director (juhataja) of Canada’s Metsaülikool (Forest University), established in 1969, a unique cultural camp located at Kotkajärve in Muskoka, Ontario. Never one to leave even the smallest task undone, this specialist engineer, who lectured in Canada. the U.S., Sweden and Estonia, fashioned the unique wooden discs used as name tags at Metsaülikool by sawing each one individually from ironwood branches gathered at the family farm.


The couple increased their KESKUS donation


Jaan and Tiina Timusk of Toronto are donors at the new level of giving for KESKUS: Koidula gild.


They have increased their original Viru vanemad donation, which is for gifts from $10,000-49,999 to the new level of Koidula gild, which is from $50,000-99,999. This new level is a nod to Estonia’s rich cultural heritage and Lydia Koidula, the pen name of the beloved Estonian author and poet, who defied the rather strait-laced convention at the time of women not being encouraged to pursue their abilities as authors. "Gild" (guild) is defined as “an association of people for mutual aid or the pursuit of a common goal”. More about Koidula gild here.


Tiina and Jaan are excited about the new KESKUS, saying "It is beautiful in its architecture, it is located in an exciting part of Toronto close to the university, and will be a perfect meeting place for Estonians and their Canadian friends as well."


All KESKUS valued donors make a critical difference


Please join our growing list of capital campaign donors. The KESKUS International Estonian Centre’s donor categories are Kalevipoja laud for gifts over $100,000 (including naming rights for specific areas), Koidula gild, which is from $50,000-99,999, Viru vanemad for gifts of $10,000-$49,999, and Kungla rahvas for gifts up to $10,000.


To make a donation, please call +1.647.250.7136 or email donations@estoniancentre.ca. 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.KESKUS leadership donors are recognized here.


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