VEMU Events – Fall 2023

December 13, 2023

As the warm, balmy summer days began to change into crisper, chillier autumn weather, VEMU kicked off its fall events and activities season. VEMU once again became the centre of bustling cultural energy and community activity after a short “summer vacation.” Many exciting and enriching events were planned, including everything from a taekwondo workshop to the opening of a fascinating e-Estonia themed exhibit and a whole slew of riveting lectures. Several events continued to have a focus on fitness and sports as the year of movement, as announced by the Republic of Estonia’s Ministry, is in effect until the end of 2023.

September started off with a screening of the film “Our Tartu: 50 Years of Tartu College” at the annual Society of Estonian Artists in Toronto art show and exhibition. Chief archivist Piret Noorhani was also the guest speaker at the event this year, discussing the theme of belonging and how cultural identity both plays a role in that and also defines us as individuals. Both her speech and the film were received well by the audience and more film screenings are planned in the near future. Closely following that was another film screening on September 21st of “Anna Kaljas. The Untold Story,” directed by Dwight Storring, which VEMU co-presented at the Princess Cinemas in Waterloo. The film tells the story of the remarkable life of a passionate social justice advocate who came to Canada as a refugee from Estonia after World War II and ended up as a member of the Order of Canada. September 23rd was an important day as we celebrated Tartu College’s 53rd birthday with an eventful and enriching afternoon! We opened Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom’s exhibition titled “Why Estonia? The 30-year Journey from the USSR to e-Estonia” which details the Estonia’s history of becoming a digital society and country. The guest speaker for the annual Dr. Vello Soots memorial lecture was Kristina Reinsalu, senior expert at the e-Governance Academy of Estonia. Her lecture was titled “Digitization as Driver for Innovation and Social Change” during which she spoke about e-Estonia and how other countries are also following Estonia’s example as a digital country. Needless to say, the event went well and participants enjoyed themselves to the fullest, celebrating our dear Tartu’s special day together. Closing out the month was a lecture by Vabamu’s director Karen Jagodin about how Vabamu continues to be relevant as a museum and educational centre in Estonia and how the role of museums in today’s society is evolving and changing.

Moving into the second month of fall, October, the leaves had begun to change colour and the weather had become chillier but VEMU’s busy calendar of events kept everyone warm and active. Kicking off the month was a long-awaited idea that finally came to fruition, VEMU’s fresh keelekohvikud or Language Cafés! The keelekohvikud are focused towards complete beginners or people who have very little knowledge of the Estonian language, but welcome everyone that wants to come and practice their Estonian in a no-pressure environment! The first café had a good turn out, with ages ranging from 20 to 70+, and participants truly enjoyed themselves. A week later, Piret Noorhani spoke at an online meeting, “Leia oma Eesti” for Estonians who live abroad, about her journey to Canada, VEMU’s activities and what the Estonian community is like locally. On October 13th, the elderly folks at Ehatare Retirement and Nursing Home were treated to a screening of the film “Our Tartu.” Audience reception was, once again, good and interest was peaked. Mid-month, we had an interactive lecture by Tarmo Tuule from the Estonian publishing and game company Nutigrupp about how to create crosswords, writing children’s books and board games. He got everyone present to participate in fun sudoku and crossword creation exercises. The event was also the celebration of the Estonian Studies Library’s 20th anniversary and longtime librarians Vaike Rannu and Alliki Arro were honoured. Rounding out the month was Estonian foreign minister Margus Tsahkna’s visit and reception at Tartu College, in which VEMU also played a part. The minister visited VEMU archives, took time to speak with organizations in our local Estonian community and also briefly meet with members of the community that attended the event. The second keelekohvik also took place and we were happy to see both familiar and new faces join in, learn and expand their Estonian language skills and knowledge.

Nearing the end of November, we continued to provide the community with plenty of exciting lectures, events and activities to take part in. The month began with a bang, with a taekwondo workshop by Estonian-Canadian Thomas Käis-Prial, a registered black belt with World Taekwondo. Thomas taught us many punches, kicks, and blocks that are especially useful in self-defence. Participants left the workshop feeling refreshed and full of energy, inspired by the Korean form of martial arts. Throughout the month, our keelekohvikud continued to take place and we now have an established group of individuals, from all age groups and various cultural backgrounds, that comes together bi-weekly and enjoys practicing their constantly developing Estonian language skills. Just recently, another idea that had been brewing for a while finally came to life, VEMU’s new writing club began! We’ve had 3 workshops so far; more are planned for the near future, and so far it has been a success. Writing enthusiasts came together under the guidance of Estonian-Canadian Anne Remmel, who has studied autobiographical and memoir writing, in order to learn how to gain momentum for writing and overcome obstacles. This includes where to begin with researching, tapping into our inner creative writer and more. Mid-month, Estonian Anu Tähemaa presented a fascinating lecture about public speaking and the art of speech in general, which reeled in the audience’s interest right from the get-go. Anu was here to perform at North America’s largest inspirational speakers’ competition, Grand Slam. Renowned Estonian folk musician Mari Kalkun came to Toronto once again to perform at the BLOK music festival; her performance was co-presented by VEMU and Estonian Music Week. The European Union Film Festival recently took place and Estonia’s film “Kalev” was screened, with VEMU and KESKUS co-presenting the event. The film tells the story of the famed Estonian basketball team, who came to be the last winners of the Soviet Union Basketball Championship before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The month finished off with a celebratory lecture in honour of the 104th anniversary of the Estonian language Tartu University by Maarja Merivoo-Parro, who has recently started work on a new series of documentary films. She spoke to us about the visual heritage which portrays the lives of Estonians living abroad from the 19th century onwards.

VEMU’s slew of events for this year ended with a magnificent close with Estonian-Canadian graphic artist Ashley Lennox’s book launch on December 6th. The colouring book is titled “The Occult & Folklore Coloring Book” and is a great introduction into Estonian and Eastern European folklore and tales. The event had a great turnout and was a success. VEMU’s team was also present at the community’s Rahvajõulupuu or Christmas Market on December 9th. We showcased some items for sale such as books and LP’s and offered fun activities.

As you can see, we have much to see and do here at VEMU and we look forward to seeing many of you at the numerous events, workshops, lectures, and more that we have coming up in the new year.

Kati Kiilaspea