Thanks for the memories, Toronto Eesti Maja, we’ll launch them into KESKUS!
The Toronto Estonian House was bursting with the unleashed energy of over 700 people at the LÄÄST BLÄÄST event to commemorate and celebrate all that the Estonian House has provided over the past 62 years.
This emotional and enthusiastic crowd – many of whom travelled great distances to be there from Canada, the U.S., and Europe soaked up the choirs and musical collaborations that were, in several cases, specially reincarnated for the event. These brought back memories of “Caravan” and “Tallinn Festival”, events that brought performers and energized crowds to the three halls of the Estonian House for decades.
The evening was divided into three parts, moving from formal speeches through to rock’n’roll and culminating in an inter-generational dance party.
Part One: “Speech Day”
The evening started with a 45-minute “aktus”, the translation for which KESKUS International Estonian Centre project lead Ellen Valter, the MC for the evening, aptly found to be: “speech day”. Flag bearers in folk-costume ushered in the formal part of the evening, and those gathered sang “O Canada” and “Eesti hümn”, accompanied by Erik Kreem on piano. Raivo Remmel, former long-time Estonian House president thanked the people who have made Eesti Maja what it was, and recounted some of his fondest memories. Honorary Consul for Estonia Laas Leivat spoke of the symbolic and political importance of Estonian House and with his usual wit and humour shared some little-known stories from EH's rich history.
Toronto Estonian Male Choir (TEM) then filled the hall with their resplendent voices to mark this final event in the Estonian House. This was particularly poignant, as TEM was the very first group to use the Estonian House in April 1960 for a rehearsal, and provided the musical part of the ceremonial opening of the house, held later that same year. “The alpha and the omega”, as TEM conductor Avo Kittask fittingly remarked.
The freshly-minted Estonian Ambassador to Canada, Margus Rava, then greeted the packed Grand Hall, noting that this was the largest Estonian crowd he has addressed and congratulated those gathered on their vision to continue evolving as a community. Thereafter, Veiko Parming, current Estonian House president, gave the keynote speech, echoing Raivo Remmel’s words of appreciation for the founders and for everyone who has left their imprint on Eesti Maja over the years – well known, or under the radar.
Veiko noted that the migration of the Estonian community to its new home in downtown Toronto, KESKUS International Estonian Centre, six subway stops away, is the start of an exciting new chapter. This could not have been accomplished without the dedication and hard work of the first generation of Estonians who came to Canada. They knew a home for preserving Estonian culture was vital to the longevity of the community. The Estonian House on Broadview Avenue was built out from an old schoolhouse and came to life with the talent and sweat equity of those elders. It has been the home and gathering place for a vibrant range of Estonian activities and events for over 60 years and the fortitude and spirit that it symbolizes will carry on into our new home at KESKUS.
The aktus (aka “speech day”) portion ended with Estonia choir joining TEM, with “Tuljak”, with conductor Ingrid Silm. Thanks were given to Northern Birch Credit Union, Estonian Foundation of Canada, and Tartu College who sponsored the evening, and to choir conductors, EH General Manager Ingrid Laar, Ülle Veltmann who has been the heart (and fed our stomachs) of EH for decades, to the curator of the evening Ellen Valter, and to the speakers. Raivo Remmel was honoured for his long service with a ceremonial oak wreath. Tying a bow on the first part of the evening, the entire hall then together sang “Kungla rahvas”, accompanied by Enno Agur on accordion.
Part Two: Friendships rekindled
The Crystal Hall featured Ülle’s legendary pirukad, hapukapsad and much more and, of course, the bar. The Gallery Hall offered a quieter respite, set up as a living room, with posters and photos from EH’s history on the walls. Veiko and Raivo conducted tours of EH’s “hidden spaces” from the old boiler room to the tower in the attic, a videobooth was set up for everyone to deposit their memories of EH. One of the classrooms downstairs had been set up to resemble an Estonian school lesson about to begin and meanwhile hundreds of friendships were rekindled and new ones made as the energy in the entire building grew and grew.
The second part of the evening started with performers LEEK with three lovely songs, and TERR Kungla with two crowd favourites, Vanaisa polka and Tuljak. From there Andres Raudsepp, together with two of his children, Järvi and Lauri, performed crowd favourites and Urmas Kärner from the US then joined Andres for the chestnut “Rio Grande”.
Andres Raudsepp & friends
The stage then welcomed Leiki & Keila Kopvillem, who performed a selection of pieces including some by their late father Peeter Kopvillem, accompanied by guitarist Aarne Tork who flew in from Vancouver for the event.
Leiki & Keila Kopvillem, Aarne Tork:
Külapoisid, Lindau family members, Leiki & Keila, accompanied by Urmas Kärner and Hillar Tork who had flown in from Belgium for the event, also paid tribute to those ensemble members who have passed, with “Tallinna Teel” and “Peolaul”.
Part Three: Intergenerational dance-party
During a quick break chairs were stacked to the side, and then the party crescendoed to a whole new level and people wasted no time hitting the dance floor to the music of reincarnated band KAJA Reloaded (which, in addition to founding member Mihkel Liik, included Liisa Käärid, Enn Kuuskne, Augie Riik, among others); Urmas Kärner, who flew in from Massachusetts for the event was accompanied by Orpheus band members; Orpheus (Aarne Tork, Hillar Tork, Tõnis Tõllasepp, and alternatingly Erik Kreem and Mati Otsmaa, who flew in from San Francisco for the event); and, Kalevipogues (Indrek Kanne, Ralph Leis, Juuli Lindau, Juhan Lindau, Tõnis Tõllasepp, Paul Pint, Erik Holmberg, Ellen Valter). The hall pulsated with music, and the dance party went on into the wee hours.
The bands finally called last song at 2:30am, but that didn’t mean that the crowd stopped! They continued while the band packed up, singing from the dance floor with “Tiina Tiina”, to “Eestlane olen ja eestlaseks jään” until, fittingly, organizers had to summon the spirit of hr. Paul Naaber, the caretaker of the building from decades ago, who would end parties by flipping on full lights and shaking his keychain, and organizers ushered the last remaining few hundred revellers into taxis.
It was an extraordinary night, a touching send-off for the venerable “grand dame” of Broadview that served the Estonian community so well, for decades. One of the last songs, pop song “Closing Time” lyrics were fitting: "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."
As revellers left for the night, they walked past the cornerstone of Estonian House, on which the words of poet Henrik Visnapuu are written: “Me kestame üle aja” (We will endure).
Good-bye Eesti Maja, thank you for this LÄÄST BLÄÄST, we’ll do this all again when KESKUS opens and inoculate it with our friendships and memories, and carrying along the fortitude and the spirit of those who came before us. Can’t wait!
Help continue the journey, to our new home in KESKUS!
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