KLAM – Canadian Latvian Archive and Museum has experienced a great loss with the passing of Ženija Vītols.
As a co-founder, together with her colleagues Aija Kārkliņa and Skaidrīte Tērauds, Ženija was our guiding light, said Andris Ķesteris, the initiator of the creation of KLAM.
Ženija was born in Daugavpils, Latvia, on the eve of Jāņi, the summer solstice, June 23, 1935. Having fled the country in 1944 and living in Displaced Persons camps in Germany for six years, Ženija immigrated to Canada with her parents and sister, arriving in Halifax on November 18, 1950 — Latvian Independence Day. The family took up permanent residency in Toronto.
After graduating from Jarvis Collegiate, Ženija married Alberts Vītols, and together they raised three children — Astra, Alberts, and Vilma — ensuring that the language spoken at home was Latvian.
Music played a major role in Ženija’s life. She sang in numerous choirs and was a frequent soloist at many Latvian cultural events, often alongside her husband. Ženija sang in the pensioner’s choir Rota (Jewel) until the spring of 2023.
Ženija’s early work in Canada was as a bookkeeper. Later in life, she enrolled in the University of Toronto as a mature student, graduating with a B.A. in Anthropology. For the last twenty years before retiring, Ženija worked in the tourism industry as a travel agent. In this capacity, she organized a tour of fifty people to attend the 2011 world premiere of Bruno Skulte’s opera Vilkaču mantiniece (The Heiress of Vilkači) at the Latvian National Opera in Riga. Since 2010, Ženija served on the board of the Latvian National Opera Fund of Canada.
Ženija had a strong bond with Latvia and cared deeply about preserving the history of the Latvian diaspora. To this end she served for many years as the head of the Canadian Latvian Archive and Museum (KLAM). She also represented KLAM at the Baltic Canadian Imprint, a collaborative group of Balts in Canada who were behind the successful exhibit “Sharing Our Stories: The Baltic Diaspora at Home in Canada”. Ženija will be deeply missed by her family, friends and colleagues!
Baltic Canadian Imprint