Latvian Symposium at Glendon College in Toronto

April 2, 2019

In the fall of 2018, York University Glendon College students Sidney Mettete and Regina Roque contacted me to ask whether I could help them find speakers for a Latvian symposium taking place in March. The event was being organized for the 24th time within the Glendon College international research program. This was the first time the Baltic region was under discussion; Latvia was chosen as the topic, since it celebrated it’s 100th birthday last year and as the students said, it is a region that has an exciting controversial history and it interested them.

In addition to the speakers, the exhibit “Sharing Our Stories. Baltic Diaspora at Home in Canada” was recommended to the students. This exhibit was created two years ago as a collaboration between the Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Baltic Germans and tells the story of the Baltic community in Canada. A place was found for the exhibit at the Canadian Language Museum, which is located at Glendon College in an old manor house, where the exhibit was installed a few days before the symposium.

The symposium took place on March 29 and offered a variety of topics from security to history and identity. Ian Roberge and Aymen Karoui, who supervised the students at Glendon College, and the Latvian Ambassador in Canada Karlis Eichenbaums spoke at the opening session.

After this the audience was divided into two. One group headed to the Language Museum, where the Baltic Canadian Imprint working group members Dani Breen (Lithuanian Museum- Archives of Canada), Andris Ķesteris (Latvian National Federation in Canada, Canadian Latvian Archives and Museum), Petra Grantham (Canadian Baltic Immigrant Aid Society), and Piret Noorhani (VEMU) spoke about the four different Baltic communities in Canada and about their work with historical heritage. This discussion was led by Baltic German community representative Susanne Burkhardt. The second group stayed at the main building to participate in the panel that was dedicated to Latvian and NATO relations. Speakers included Steve Macbeth, Dr. Alex Lanoszka, Dr. Stefanie van Hlatky, and Dr. Andres Kasekamp.

Lunch was a joint affair in the manor house. In addition to physical sustenance, there was also something to feed the soul: Peteris Zarins and Juris Kenins performed music by Latvian composers. The session after lunch was dedicated to economic questions that were addressed by Dr. Brent McKenzie, Dr. Frederick Peters, Gints Turlajs, and Irene Cirule. This was followed by two more parallel sessions. At the first session Grant Schamra, Edgar Kirss, and Dr. Edelgard E. Mahant spoke about Latvian history and the development of Latvian nationality. The second panel discussed topics such as the new generation of Latvian diaspora, their dilemmas, choices, and tasks. The speakers were honorary consul Karlis Vasaris, Marcus Kolga, and Eriks Bredovskis. The main speaker for the closing session was Lieutenant Colonel Steve MacBeth, the Head of the NATO Battalion in Latvia. Both the speakers and organizers were thanked.

Although the symposium topic country was Latvia, it offered plenty of food for thought for Estonian participants – we share a similar history to our southern neighbour and also have similar problems today. The student organized conference went smoothly and was very substantial. The event ended with a reception for the speakers and organizers at the Language Museum, where everyone could also view the collaborative Baltic exhibit. We can only be happy that the young symposium organizers found us – these kinds of events help us reach outside our small Estonian and Baltic communities and introduce our activities to a larger audience.

Piret Noorhani