VEMU’S First Contest “Preserving Our History” Concludes in Toronto

December 20, 2013

On December 7th, all those who were instrumental in the triumph of Estonia’s Heritage Year gathered in Viljandi, Estonia’s Heritage City for a celebration. The year was a success, as evidenced by the 400 events that made it into the official calendar. In reality there were probably many more. Not all these events took place only in Estonia. Those who have lived abroad for many generations understand that one cannot retain nationality without culture or heritage. In addition to its regular activities, VEMU/the Estonian Studies Centre held its own Heritage Year events, such as lectures, workshops and exhibitions. At the start of the year, VEMU announced its first competition, where it hoped to receive submissions reflecting the food culture of Estonian Canadians and the history of their food shops and businesses.

Thirteen submissions were received for the competition, and eight of these came from the Toronto Estonian School. The results of the competition were announced on December 10th at the Bibliography Club’s Christmas luncheon at Tartu College and that same evening at the Estonian School’s Christmas party held at Toronto’s Estonian House.

The jury members were: the chief archivist for VEMU, Piret Noorhani; the Toronto Estonian Secondary School Principal, Silvi Verder and VEMU’s archival assistant Kadi Kuivits. What were the criteria used for judging? Substance and scope, of course, but also presentation, choice of additional materials (photos, recipes, and so on) as well as collaboration with family members. The submissions were reviewed as two distinct groups: students (all 14 – 16 years old) and adults.

Three monetary awards were given to students, as well as books. As the best submissions were equal in quality, the jury decided they should share the first and second prize. Nicole Pede’s work “An Ordinary Christmas” was based upon her grandmother Vilme Pede’s memories of Christmas on a farm in Estonia during the 1930s. Mark Pettinen’s submission was titled “The Pettinen Family Food Customs and Traditions in Canada. Third prize was awarded to Liina and Erik Sadul for their submission “Preserving Our History” – a reflection on various aspects of Estonian life: camps, scouting, Estonian school, and customs associated with saunas, birthdays, and food, of course.

The remaining student submissions were rewarded with books. Maili Vessmann was commended for her well chosen illustrations of food, table manners and Christmas customs. Robi Cyrwus received a special award for the exemplary presentation of his family’s food traditions. The work of Merike Hess was acknowledged for her collaboration with her grandmother Ivi Kiilaspea, whose recollections of life in Estonia, refugee camps in Germany, and the United States were included in her report. A special award was given to Silvi Raud for the originality of her chosen topic: How technology and changes in world politics have influenced how Estonians in Canada and Estonia communicate with one another. Annaliisa McConnville also received a special award for her presentation on camping. She examined the impact camps at Jõekääru, Seedrioru and Kotkajärve have had on her and her friends, as well as on other Estonians. Since all of the student submissions were from class #3 of the Secondary School, their teacher, Erika Kessa, received a thank you in the form of a book for the inspiration and guidance given to her students.

Five submissions were received from adults. Aino Müllerbeck wrote of her memories of time-honoured holiday and food customs in Estonia as well as in Canada. Some of these are very personal and are applicable only to her family. Her submission was illustrated with wellchosen photographs. Thanks also went to Reet Petersoo, who had gathered photos and facts relating to her father’s, Felix Krabi’s, food business, which operated under the names ESTO Bakery, ESTO Bakery Limited and ESTO Specialties Limited. This submission offered a lot of valuable information for the exhibition relating to Estonian food stores that will be completed in 2014. Further information for that exhibition was included in Kristiina Mai Valter McConnville’s remembrances of working at Rooneem’s Bakery as a young student. Maie Ilves offered memories of various Estonian food stores in Toronto. Also noted was the most original submission: Ellen Valter brought VEMU a bottle of ESTO beer.

As a thank you for its participation, the school’s library also received gifts: a language game that should be useful in Estonian language classes and books of historical studies done by students from Estonia, which can serve as examples for participants in future competitions. A new contest with the prizes once again being provided by Tartu College will be announced early in 2014. The topic will be “70 Years since the Great Escape to the West”.

Piret Noorhani