VEMU Opens Its Digital Archives at Covid-19 times

May 20, 2020

Covid-19 has changed life for most of us. VEMU, the Museum of Estonians Abroad in Canada is no exception here. Due to the need to restrict the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the management of Tartu College, our home, has decided to keep the G-floor (including the Hall, fraternities’ rooms, the library) and archival depositories on B2 floor closed to the public until June 15, 2020. VEMU staff has been working mostly from home for the past two months by now.

All the events we had planned for this period were cancelled or postponed. And like the rest of the world, we too had to go digital. It fitted conveniently with the initiative of Estonian Culture Ministry to announce 2020 as a Year of Digital Culture. As VEMU’s audiovisual collections are rich in different recordings of lectures, seminars, conferences, workshops, exhibit openings, concerts etc (that mostly are digitized), we started sharing our archival material online, using VEMU YouTube channel and Facebook page together with our newsletter and Eesti Elu /Estonian Life newspaper.

Since the beginning of April (and with a plan to continue until mid June) we have uploaded 2 video recordings of our past events each week. On Tuesdays we have uploaded lectures on either historical or contemporary topics and on Fridays we have tried to keep it less formal by uploading lectures and workshops about cooking, handicrafts etc. These, by the way, have been the most popular uploads – the two most viewed lectures and workshops of this period have been Nancy Bush’s “How I Found Estonia Through Knitting” and “How to Make Kringel and Classic Pasha” by Susi Holmberg and Paul Lillakas. All of the topics covered have some sort of connection with Estonia of course, but quite a few of the recordings are in English – thus potentially accessible to a wider audience of viewers.

Statistically, the past 6 weeks of this consistent uploading have resulted in 15 new subscribers to our channel and 1787 total views with 304 hours of total combined watch time. All of these metrics have seen over 100% increase compared to a similar length period of our regular, rather sporadic past uploading.

All of the recordings of the events were done by a group of volunteer film enthusiasts – the Estonian Heritage Society in Toronto, who during 1981 and 2017 captured over 1200 recordings (mostly life story interviews and events) of the Estonian community here in Toronto. We would like to thank everyone who has been involved with the Estonian Heritage Society throughout the years for the incredible work they have done with building and capturing the vast collection of video recordings that form a significant part of our invaluable video archives here in VEMU.

Some examples of the recent uploads:

Hilary Bird – A Decade in the Restored Republic (2015)

Susi Holmberg and Vatikiotis family – Teaching ESTOs & Greeks How to Cook (2016)

Scott Diel – Post Independence Role for Väliseestlased (2015)

Kristina Lupp and Inga Paenurm on Estonian food culture (2012)

Nancy Bush – How I Found Estonia Through Knitting (2016)

Photo by: Piret Noorhani

How to Make Kringel and Classic Pasha with Susi Holmberg & Paul Lillakas (2015)

Photo by: Taavi Tamtik

Marika Blossfeldt – Energize Your Body and Mind by Making Smart Food Choices (2013)


For the full list of our recent and past uploads visit (and subscribe to) our YouTube channel here:

Rasmus Rattas