Pasture of Old Articles - site updated March 1, 2014



©Eva Vabasalu

13 Jun 2008   


Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a young girl sitting at the kitchen table in Toronto refusing to eat verivorst. She consoled herself with the thought that when she grew up she would not have to eat blood sausage, and to make very sure, she vowed not to marry an Estonian. Attracting what we fear most, the young woman – who knew little of anthropology – married an Englishman, only to discover too late that the English are also fond of such victuals. 

By the year 1991, at forty-four years of age, she worked at a distress centre as a co-coordinator of volunteers training volunteers, maintaining membership records and officiated as a recruiter for the non-profit organization. A few evenings a week she was an instructor of high-impact aerobics. Two teenage daughters lived with her as well as her younger brother, who lived with Down’s Syndrome. He had been under her care since their parents died six years ago. Divorced, the woman and the father-of-her-children stayed on friendly terms, and they all celebrated special occasions together as a family – a brief history and a modern day version of a happy ending.

In the early summer of 1991 I had been invited by my friend in Tallinn to visit. Immediately, I made plans to fly to Tallinn on August 20th. Of course, as the time approached, the political situation in Estonia rose to volatile proportions, causing me to seriously consider abandoning my plans, inflamed by advice from friends and relatives not to go. What ultimately persuaded me to go ahead with the trip was an inexplicable sense of destiny. The best way that I can explain it is that a strong feeling was urging me to do it - I would liken it to a call. 

The Finnair plane was more than half empty as it took off for Helsinki. Russian tanks had been in Tallinn the previous two nights. Thus there was no guarantee anyone would be allowed into the country. However, as it turned out, there was no trouble except for a slight moment of panic, when the woman in front of me challenged the Russian officer’s authority, asserting, “Estonia is a free country.” 

Driving away from the airport with my friend I noted that not only were the streets peaceful with an ordinariness to them but the most shocking sight was a tall statuesque woman strutting along in a leather suit like a vision out of the latest Vogue magazine. In Canada my aunt remarked, “the people are so very poor” so I took her cue and didn’t pack anything but basic clothes, not even one dressy blouse! My friend Lya interrupted this thought to tell me that her sister had warned her not to be too disappointed if I didn’t show up at the airport. And, by the way, how did I dare to visit at such a troubled time?

There was a great excitement amongst the people in Tallinn, a pitch of energy that had not been felt for a long time and journalists and photographers were everywhere. August 23 was the 52nd anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and that evening a large group of Estonians were gathering around Pikk Hermann. Many Estonians were in traditional costume as we stood singing, watching the blue-black-and-white flag being hoisted. The air was so heavy with emotion that I could barely stand it. The seriousness of the situation made me feel a little giddy: like the reaction people have to an accident or death, causing them to laugh inappropriately. Although I didn’t laugh out loud I was overwhelmed with a sense of astonishment that of all people taking part in a celebration of protest (which it really was), there I was, shoulder to shoulder with my fellow countrymen, people who had been oppressed for so long and I, who had avoided Estonians most of my life, a non-involved Estonian, unbelievably was here amongst them. It was ironic and maybe even somewhat laughable.

Years later, I was asked whether this experience made a dramatic change in my attitude and whether it drew me back into the cultural fold. Yes and no. I think a visit to the homeland of one’s roots usually has a profound effect. Although I had a new appreciation of Estonia and its inhabitants, my life in Toronto continued on in its Canadian way for another six years. 

By the fall of 1997 my eldest daughter had married and my youngest had left to attend university in Kingston, Ontario. In 1996 I met a wonderful man, Raul Vabasalu from White Rock, B.C., and after a two-year courtship we were married in Toronto in 1998 and then I moved out west. In December of that year we attended the Pensioners’ Bazaar where Veera Õunapuu, while clasping Raul’s arm, insisted that we join the Keerutajad folkdancing group. I had never folk danced before, though Raul (once an Arthur Murray’s ballroom instructor) had done so many years previous. So we joined and I found the first two months learning so many dances at once to be extremely demanding. 

During my time the Keerutajad have performed at Lääneranniku Päevad in Portland, Vancouver and last year, in Los Angeles, we danced „Tuljak“ with 150 dancers in a double ring. Besides folkdancing the Keerutajad group also sings as a choir. We immensely enjoy singing and swaying to the tunes of our mellifluent folksongs, the music carrying and filling our senses with the smell of hayfields, waltzing in Saaremaa and visions of „metsa veerel väike maja“.

My experiences with the Keerutajad have proved to be life transforming. It is not only an extremely homogenous group, a genuine friendship circle. Each Keerutaja is uniquely gifted in his/her own right and a strong contributor of time and talent to the community at large. 

Over the years I have sat on various boards in the community beginning with Eesti Selts, (five years); Estonian Church Foundation, (two years); Lutheran Church, (two years); and Kuldne Klubi Pensioners’ Club board, half a year and counting. For the past nine years Raul and I have sung in the Estonian Orthodox Church’s Choir, relishing the music and Isa Stefan’s heartfelt services.

Recently I launched a website highlighting Estonian events. The goal being to build a resource centre, a repository of photographs, writings and links to harness and share interesting Estonian oriented facts and information. The webpage is an ongoing project, and I would like to encourage others to do something similar, the more websites the merrier, to create a virtual hands-around-the-globe chain. For more information have a look at my site:

Going back to that earlier question, did the poignant visit to the Estonian homeland make a profound change in my life? Looking back I would say, yes. A seed was cast. My field has been a rich and fertile one. I look forward to more sowing, weeding and harvesting. And the biggest conversion is that not only do I now like verivorst, but also I help make and sell it, perhaps inciting other little girls and boys to sit and plot behind a cold plate of sausage.



On February 19, 2009 my close friend and leeri õde, Saima and her husband Bruce were heading to their cottage situated on an island in Lake Cordova which is about a half hour’s drive northeast of Peterborough, Ontario.    


They parked their vehicle in a desolated area at the edge of the lake.  In the summer the cottage area is concentrated with people and activity but in the winter the cottages are closed-up and no one is around.  On a ATV (four wheel all-terrain vehicle) with a hitched trailer loaded up with groceries, new tiles, two enormous containers of water, and a case of beer, they were ready to head out with their supplies for a few days stay at their cozy cottage.  Saima slung her purse around her neck and jumped into the ATV.  


It was a bitter cold day -15 below zero but they were well bundled up and enjoyed the winter landscape as they motored along.   As they moved across the ice toward the island their tiny lapdog Buca snuggled in Saima’s arms.  Bruce handed Saima the car keys which she plunked into her purse, it was still hung around her neck.


A few minutes later about half way to their destination there was the sound of a loud crunch and instantly they fell through the ice and were immersed in the freezing lake water.   As the ATV and trailer sank into the depth of 21 feet, Bruce pushed off against the sinking ATV with his feet and boosted himself up onto the ice.  No matter how hard Saima tried she could not get a grip on the ice to hoist herself up as her hands kept slipping off it.   She was wearing a ski jacket with sweater and quilted vest and thick lined skidoo pants complete with heavy boots all of which added extra weight in the water.   She kicked furiously while Bruce was on his knees in front of her with his weight extended backwards.  He used one arm to pull her as he leaned back and his other arm was stretched out to add leverage.  There was no one around to flag down for help.  The dog had somehow either jumped out or was thrown onto the ice so she was not wet.  


Soaking wet they walked in the bitter cold weather briskly until they made it back to the mainland and their car about fifteen minutes later.  They drove to the nearest grocery store and telephoned the police and fire department to advise them of the incident so a search and rescue party would not be sent out in the event the hole in the ice and any floating debris were discovered.  


In this case their survival hinged on three things:  Bruce’s quick reaction to use the sinking ATV as a spring board; that he managed to pull Saima out of water; and that they didn't lose the car keys.     


Provincial police warn the public that mild temperatures at this time of year create dangerous conditions on lakes and rivers.  They say that snowmobilers and ATV’s need five inches of new clear ice and four inches minimum of thickness to hold one person.  It’s advised that people who venture out onto the ice wear a flotation suit.  We now know why!





A Miracle for Leah

Last year the Estonian Community in Vancouver raised $13,000 to assist with housing expenses in Ottawa for Leah, pictured above with her grandmother Laida Telder, who has suffered from a severe form of Multiple Sclerosis, a disease that imprisoned the 24 year old former ballet dancer’s activities leaving her disoriented, listless and unable to see properly. Leah’s symptoms began when she was 19 years old and progressed to the point she was barely able to feed herself. Having lost all feeling in her feet she was confined to a wheelchair.

Researching MS online Leah found information describing stem cell transplant experimentation being done in Ottawa and was ultimately accepted into their treatment programme. According to a front page story written by Darah Hansen in the Vancouver Sun March 13, 2008, Leah became the 17th and youngest patient to take part in this costly, rather risky, trial procedure as it entailed heavy doses of chemotherapy (her hair fell out) and involved two six-hour pain ridden surgeries. Each patient was required to commit to living in Ottawa for a year at their own expense so that researchers could oversee results. Of the 17 procedures performed to date 13 cases have been successful, 3 had no improvement with the technique and 1 patient died. As the body is initially flooded with very heavy doses of chemotherapy there is a risk factor of 1 in 20 patients dying.

In the 1800's doctors observed that brain and spinal cords of MS patients contained scarring and hardening of nerve tissues. The word for 'hard' in Greek is 'sklêros.' Although it is not known what causes Multiple Sclerosis, a disease which attacks more females than males particularly Caucasians of Northern European ancestry, a common theory is that it is a malfunction in the immune system perhaps due to a lack of Vitamin D, genetics or an environmental reason, but whatever induces this neurological disease the grievous reality is that there is no absolute cure.

Leah’s doctors to date are extremely pleased with her progress and one doctor recently told her that although she still has MS it is no longer observable. Nerves in one of her eyes remain damaged but most of her eyesight has returned. Leah’s recovery has been a phenomenon and she is now able to walk without assistance and is slowly resuming the life she once had. Her story gives much needed hope to other MS patients.

 ©Eva Vabasalu


Amazing Grace, Beyond the Sunset

The lyrics of Amazing Grace were written in 1772 by John Newton (1775 - 1807)  a British slave ship captain turned Anglican cleryman, poet and supporter for anti-slavery.  The hymn text of Amazing Grace was first  published 1779 in Olney Hymns, the verses only without a title.   It is probable that Hymns (defined as praises to God) were chanted rather than sung by Newton's church congregation.   Some 56 years later William Walker a southern Baptist choir-leader raised in South Carolina publishedThe Southern Harmony and Musical Companion in 1835 which first paired Newton's  verses to  New Britain, being the melody we recognize today asAmazing Grace.  In Walker's time it was common for songwriters to borrow verses or music from old folk songs and he openly attested to adding treble and bass to this tune of unknown origin. 

In 1852 Harriet Beech Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, an anti-slavery novel in which the character Tom sings two verses of John Newton's hymn text thereby leaving the reader  to believe he sang the verses to the music ofNew Britain (Amazing Grace).  Stowe's best selling novel of the 19th century is accredited for inciting the American Civil War of 1861-1865, a war which virtually ended slavery in the United States.  She may also be responsible for setting in motion the urban legend that the origin of the theme came from  the hold of an African slave ship on an Atlantic crossing where Newton heard it and poached it.  Not so. 

The text of Newton's hymn has been annexed to twenty different melodies and Amazing Grace has been recorded thousands of times.  The Il Divo version recorded at Rome's Coliseum inspires exceptional awe.  Elvis Presley (he pronounced it PRESS-ly) recorded Amazing Grace in 1971.  Elvis had a deep love of Gospel music, and like Newton, Walker and Stowe he was deeply religious.  Presley was nominated for 14 Grammys winning 3 for his gospel recordings - two for How Great Thou Art and one for He Touched Me.  Gospel was his warm-up music before a concert and he continued with it afterwards into the wee hours of the morning.  He said it eased his mind.  

Another well-known Gospel hymn worth a mention is Beyond the Sunsetwritten by ordained minister Virgil Brock, and his wife Blanche in 1936.  It was written in one evening.  On their gravesite stands a large monument with the sheet music and complete lyrics of Beyond the Sunset on it.  In Estonian the vowel profusion adds a new level of tenderness to this haunting hymn.  

Loojangu taga särab meil hommik. Taevane Päästja ootab meid ees. Möödas on maine päevadepõimik loojangu taga, kui päev on käes. 

Loojangu taga pilvi ei ole, tormi ei tõuse, kadunud hirm. Oh, päev nii õnnis, oh, päev täis ilu! Loojangu taga möödas on surm. 

Loojangu taga juhib üks käsi Jumala juurde rõõmusse mind. Austamast Teda iial ei väsi loojangu taga õnnelik rind. 

Loojangu taga jälle võib näha lahkunud armsaid muredeööst. Iialgi enam lahku ei lähe, loojangu taga puhkame tööst.       

©Eva Vabasalu

Don Valley Once So Grand

Toronto's Don Valley once produced choke cherries, apples, blueberries, gooseberries, elderberries, blackberries, red, purple and black raspberries, red and black currants, rhubarb, wild grapes and strawberries. There were over 2,000 plant species allowing fat bees to ponder catnip, corn tassels, buckwheat, clover, alfalfa, willow herb, fire weed, trilliums, sunflowers and milkweed. There was such a profusion of wild roses growing on the west side of the valley it was named Rosedale. Groves of huge white pines, large rabbles of butterflies and flocks of passenger pigeons darkened the sky in flight. Hollow trees colonized by bees contained 20 to 100 lb. of succulent honey.

The Don River watershed flows in two branches from Major McKenzie Drive down to O'Connor Avenue where it forks east to Taylor-Massey Creek, and forks west to its mouth at Lake Ontario about half a mile east of Cherry Street at Lake Shore Blvd. In the 1800's trout and 25 lb. salmon swam in the Don River while herds of cattle roamed along its banks. In 1852 almost 40 mills (grist, woolen, paper, saw), distilleries and breweries were dependant on river water. Schooners and steam barges travelled to Gerrard St. delivering freight to nearby wharves, a swing bridge allowed the ferry ‘Minnie Kidd' to continue to Winchester Street where the Don Vale Tavern served thirsty travellers. 

In the winter heavy sleds moved commercial goods down the frozen river and on weekends city inhabitants used it for recreational skating and curling. Toronto Belt Line Railway (later Canadian National Railways) ran the first passenger rail service from 1892-1894 from Mt. Pleasant cemetery to Union Station stopping at Moore Park Station in the west side of the Don Valley. Canadian Pacific Railway ran a line south from Leaside stopping at the Don Station near Queen Street. CNR laid a connector line in 1906 and trains from Vancouver, Ottawa and Montreal in the 1920's stopped at the Don Station - it was active until 1967. The Don is the only surviving 19th century Toronto railway station. 

During the fight for the Siege of Toronto, between Loyalists and Rebels, on the night of December 4, 1837 Phillipe de Grassi, a former captain in Napoleon's army, and his two teenage daughters horse-backed from their homestead at O'Connor and Don Mills Road toward government headquarters at King & Jarvis to lend assistance. They encountered rebel forces near the bottom of what is now Pottery Road. Cornelia 13, an excellent rider, rode to Montgomery Tavern at Yonge & Eglinton to spy on the Rebels but was immediately spotted and captured. 

William Lyon McKenzie (first mayor of Toronto in 1834) was the Rebel leader hoping to oust the circle of Loyalists that controlled Upper Canada in an undemocratic way. When he came out of the tavern in great excitement to talk to his men Cornelia managed to escape, bullets grazed her clothing as she fled. She was able to tell the Loyalists how many rebels there were and that they were hungry, a game-changer that advantaged the Loyalists. 

Riding homeward her sister Charlotte 15 was shot and wounded by rebels near Broadview and O'Connor. Today the de Grassi name is associated with the highly successful television series Degrassi High about middle-school drama created by Linda Schuyler a former teacher at Earl Grey Senior Public School. The show took its name from the street in south Riverdale where filming first began. Historically the street of De Grassi was named for Captain de Grassi. 

For a bigger picture of the Don Valley I recommend Remembering the Don by Charles Sauriol. (By the way, there is small parkette on Braodview just north of the Estonian House, named in Sauriol's honour. There is also a trailhead park beside the river carrying hte naturalist's name, access opff Lawrence Avenue, just east of the Parkway. Worth the walk! ed.)

©Eva Vabasalu

Darkness before dawn


In the pursuit of literacy in Estonia during Swedish rule (beginning in 1645) the challenge was to take our oral language and put it into a written format in either the vernacular of the spoken conversation or according to the old German-Latin rules. The differences of dialect between the North and South (Livonia) Estonian provinces raised fear that if the written language was not unified it would divide Estonians into two tiny ethnic peoples. In 1686 the New Testament appeared in the South-Estonian dialect. Two years later, thanks to Bengt Gottfried Forselius‚ phonetic spelling was officially adopted, simplifying Estonian reading and spelling. Forselius died in his prime crossing from Sweden to Estonia in a Baltic storm, but not without leaving an invaluable contribution to Estonian literacy. 

A bleak period began in 1695, when one in five Estonians perished during the great famine, a dearth caused by two successive years of crop failure. Especially in the central parts of Estland and Livland, as the provinces were then known, peasants could only dream about rye bread and salted herring. There was no rye for making bread or enough seed grain for a new rye crop. It was too cold or rainy to grow anything. People began dying in 1696. Prolonged starvation, which is a month or two with little or no food, causes the body to turn on its fat and muscle for energy. As the body weakens, organ damage occurs along with diarrhea, anemia, pain in the limbs, tissue swelling, serious skin rashes, confusion and dementia, not to overlook mental anguish. The cold and dampness of the Estonian climate contributed greatly. Out of desperation many hungry people trekked to the larger towns hoping to find food only to be disappointed. Groans and begging pleas were heard in town streets and on country roads. After the winter’s snow melted there appeared horrific views of dead corpses many of whom had been defenseless orphans and elders. Such sights and sounds haunted the survivors for the rest of their lives. 

On the heels of the famine with only a two-year reprieve came the Great Northern War (1700-1721) with the Swedes losing out to the Russians under Peter I. Less than half the population of Estonia survived, its numbers being reduced to what it was in the thirteen century - about l30,000 souls. And though the law of averages should have dictated that life couldn’t possibly get worse, it did: the era of slavery began. In 1737, Jaan, from Virumaa wrote to the Empress Anna I (ruled 1730-1740) complaining about his landlord. An answer, the Rosen Declaration arrived from Otto Fabian von Rosen, a Livonian district magistrate, stating that peasants were property of the manor and like all property the landlords could "sell peasants, bequeath, exchange," - in reality they could even impose appalling cruelties. 

In 1739 Anton Thor Hells translated the complete Bible into Estonian for the first time. Snippets of Estonian journalism appeared in 1766, followed by the publication of calendars and almanacs with articles on science, education and the ideas of humanism. Catherine II (r. 1762-1796) revolutionized the political, administrative and taxation systems to accord with democratic principles, but did not make sure such reforms were carried out by German nobility. George Browne, the governor-general of Riga secured new rights for the Baltic peasants, and Tsar Alexander I, (r.1801-1825) abolished serfdom in 1816. Peasants who had been known by their Christian and farm names, were now assigned surnames by their landlords - usually German ones. Estonians were also able to seek some justice through local courts though these courts were controlled by the Baltic Germans. 

Advances by the early 19th century allowed Estonians to have more freedom in publishing their own printed matter. 

©Eva Vabasalu


Downside of advantage

Late in 1988 my first husband Brian and I purchased an expensive home at the height of the market, the very peak of it, then watched its value plummet. Added to our financial worries was the fact that we had not sold our former home forcing us into bridge-financing for a year. When the house was sold in 1997 the house had devalued at a rate of $72.00 per day over 8 1/2 years. If finances had been our only problem our marriage we would have weathered through it but it was just a taste of the misfortune to come.

Before the pictures were hung up in the new house, Brian slid into a massive clinical depression leaving him suicidal and unable to work. I could not understand what he had to be depressed about. Brian was a brilliant litigation barrister who had a reputation as a lawyers' lawyer. When he was in a room people gravitated to him. I had spent 17 years witnessing his beautiful mind in action through his joy of mental and physical work, his humour, his love of books, music and his family and many friends, so for these reasons I was sure this melancholy abyss was a temporary hitch. 

The depression continued. Doctors at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry plus a host of other therapists looked for a cure, all of which proved illusive. There were a few days when he felt better, almost seemed his old self, but then the wave of depression reclaimed him reducing him to lethargy and sleep. Months later he suffered a major heart attack which required heart surgery and convalescence. Brian's legal firm went bankrupt after a year and a half just when the house roof needed replacing and queued up was another major repair of many thousands of dollars. My eldest daughter ever-present in black had gained 75 lbs. and she too was a trifle despondent. 

An appointment had been set up to see a bank manager for a line of credit in order for Brian to set up a sole practice hence safeguarding our financial survival. Things looked promising after spiralling downward for two very long years, but little did I know the plane was about to hit ground zero; another suicide attempt happened and he was placed in the psychiatric ward of a hospital under heavy sedation. At the last possible moment Brian did pull up his nose, secured the line of credit, and the worst of the worse did not happen. We separated the following year yet managed to stay on good terms spending all major holidays together as a family. He switched his focus from litigation to educational law, albeit troubles with depression and suicidal tendencies plagued him off and on for the rest of his life. 

Looking back on that rough period I now realize how little I understood of what he was going through. As Aldous Huxley once said "The world of the healthy is very different from that of the sick". Depression accounts for about 90% of statistical suicides, and as we all know Estonia has a high suicide rate. It is a disorder affecting twice as many women as men. Suicide is ranked second as a leading cause of death among the young in North America, and sadly often symptoms are written off as adolescent moodiness. An excellent TV documentary was done by PBS entitled Depression: Out of the Shadows and information is available at the website

The film Magnus gives a glimpse into the dark jaws of depression, a disease which is frequently camouflaged by a mask of alcohol and drug addiction as its pain is so intense and ever-persuasive that one would do anything to escape its deep pit of sorrow. One expert explained it this way, think of the worst few hours of your life and imagine it to be your day-in-day out existence. Depression defies rationality. Months and months, and years and years of bleakness, anger, anxiety, and hopelessness is soul-destroying. Just how many years of that can anyone take? About 8 percent of the population suffers from depression and ninety percent of suicides are victims of depression. Suicide bereavement is also different and it is recommended that anyone affected by a completed suicide get survival support counselling.

I came away from Magnus astonished by the courage of Kadri Kõusaar and the lead actor, Mart Laisk. A powerful film hard to watch yet engrossing it illuminates the psychology of a suicidal person and vividly portrays what not to do although I certainly don't hold the misguided directly responsible for the end result. In my own circumstance I wish I could say I was the model of compassion and understanding. I wasn't. It's a parched existence for all involved.

Depression has many faces and degrees of severity and how much is physical and how much psychological is determined on a case per case basis. Early treatment is key but even here medication that works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. For milder depressions exercise raises the all important serotonin and dopamine levels. It is better understood now than 20 years ago thank goodness and most recently I heard that vitamins have cured some patients ringing a much needed and hopeful bell.   

©Eva Vabasalu

Remembering Brian: On July 16, 1986 he wrote his cousin:

"I sit here at the quiet part of the day, the early morning before the rest of the household stirs, looking out on a very English scene, dewy grass, roses in full bloom, and the inevitable grey sky and drizzle. But for the dampness of the days, this city would be close to the ideal abode, set on the Fraser River delta, with beaches right near the City Centre, and huge red cedars and Douglas firs enveloping the mountains, which are an ever present backdrop to every part of the city. We are here to visit Expo 86, the World's Fair, and to renew acquaintance with some of our respective family members, some of whom are fortunate to live here, the rest like us, making a fleeting visit to what is universally acknowledged to be God's country, with the minor reservation that He seems to be a little over-generous with the watering-can. The compensation is that the results, the flowers and fauna, make our own vegetation back East look like cacti in the Kalahari. .... A highlight was last night when I took 4 young girls, our daughters, their friend and a cousin to a Platinum Blond concert - 4500 adolescents jumping, waving and singing in unison, while Yours Truly wondered about the survival of his eardrums.

Eva has collected many of her relations out here. Estonians believe in doing things in great numbers - there are not many of them, so they have to give an impression of size, to try to keep the Russians in their place I suppose. The result is that we move about in packs, like wolves roaming the Steppes. A gathering of cousins and their offspring on Sunday numbered 18, and last night when I limped home from the concert, some 6 adults and a greater number of children crowded into the small kitchen for the obligatory late night snack. .... But it's all good fun when enjoyed with humour and the unexpected is what keeps us on our toes. Like yesterday, when I took Eva and the girls out for what they thought was to be an uneventful drive around the city, and up the mountain, but before they knew it I had them walking across a swaying pedestrian suspension bridge, 250' above a gorge. Everyone was hanging on nervously to the side railings, but your intrepid explorer sauntered across with his hands in his pockets, making comments on how much better it would be if the bridge was one of those grids where you could look down and see the torrent raging directly below them. Sanity was restored by a sedate tea in Stanley Park, overlooking English Bay, where the children gratefully scoffed huge eclairs dripping in chocolate sauce and cream in the child-like expectation that this would somehow settle their stomachs. Part of the plot is that at least all of this tires them out, so that at 9.30 a.m. I have already had almost 3 hours of peace and quiet in which to write to you, sip my morning tea(s), browse through the newspapers and plan further exhausting activities for them. Keeps me young, but they are all aging fast!" 

(Published with the generous consent of his widow Julie Kelsey.)






Ernst Julius Öpik – the man

Calculations determine that if an asteroid raced through the earth’s atmosphere at cosmic velocity, it would be a speed so intense that it would compress the air under it to an intensity ten times the surface of the sun’s temperature. This magnitude of speed and force equally applies to the breath of intelligence exhibited by Dr. Ernst Julius Öpik who in 1922 began studying galactic boulders cruising the Milky Way in the constellation of Sagittarius between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and their earth-crossings.

Ernst Öpik was born October 23, 1893 in Kunda, Estonia, a northern town on the shores of north-eastern Virumaa into a large brainy family. His father, Karl Henirich, was an orphan raised on a ship of the Russian Imperial Navy, and in later life was a harbour supervisor of the Kunda port. Karl was strict and punitive with his six sons and daughter. His children were nature enthusiasts introduced to fossil hunting by the oldest sibling. Each of the children seemed to be uniquely gifted with a voracious intellectual appetite and a bent for the arts. 

Ernst was a polished pianist graced with perfect pitch who seriously considered music as a career. He graduated from Moscow Imperial University in 1916. During the Russian revolution Ernst Öpik joined the White Army to fight the Bolsheviks. After a quick romance he married Vera Oreshkina, a beautiful Russian girl from Siberia who had relocated to Moscow. Their first daughter, Maija, was born in 1922.

After a stint as Director of the Astronomy Dept. at the new University of Turkestan he returned to Estonia and lectured in astronomy at Tartu University. He met Alide Piiri, a research assistant, with whom he began a love affair and for a few years he kept two wives, ran two households and fathered five more children. Öpik secured a post at Harvard, 1930-34, as Visiting Lecturer, where he impressed his colleagues with his acumen. In September 1944 when the Russian armies closed in on Estonia, he arranged for Alide and their three children to be taken to Tallinn. He helped his two eldest children by his first wife escape to America. The youngest daughter, Elina, decided to stay behind with her mother Vera – with the result being that she did not see her father and sisters again for 34 years.

During his time in a refugee camp in Germany Öpik continued his work, and as paper was precious, he wrote on every square inch of every sheet in a small and meticulous hand. After the war Öpik became a director at Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland. As editor of The Irish Astronomical Journal he emended papers prepared by young astronomers, often doubling their reference footnotes. He was known to be very frank and instantly able to size up a person’s character. 

His younger associates thought it odd that he was not intimidated by "the troubles" as they were called in Northern Ireland, and when one person complained in a resume about the difficulties of living in the area, Öpik insisted that he delete it. They couldn’t understand how he could be so unaffected, seemingly oblivious, by the maelstrom.

Some noted scientific discoveries were: analysing density of white dwarf 40 Eri B, in 1915; calculating the distance of (Andromeda Nebula) in 1922; discovering a spherical cloud of comets roughly a light year away from the sun, (1932), known as the Oort Cloud; the first compositional models of dwarf stars (i.e. the Sun) showing how they emerged into giants (1938); a new hypothesis on Ice Ages (1952). He died in Ireland on September 10, 1985. For his outstanding contributions, Minor Planet 2099 Öpik, an asteroid, was named for him on the occasion of his eighty-fifth birthday.


©Eva Vabasalu



September 28, 2007 will mark the 13th anniversary of the MS Estonia ferry sinking, the worst disaster to have occurred in the Baltic Sea in peace time. The vessel purchased by Nordström & Thulin AB & Estonian Shipping Co. in October 1992 was renamed Estonia beginning its Tallinn-Stockholm route on January 1, 1993. Nearly everyone in the country of Estonia had at one time or another made this crossing. Passengers boarded the ferry at Tallinn port, terminal B about 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, September 27 for what was to be a routine crossing, carrying a total 989 people expecting to dock in Stockholm at 9:30 Wednesday morning.

On board no one was concerned about the winds or the grayness of the Tuesday evening. The 1980 German-built vessel plowed through the water unperturbed by the 3 - 4 metre waves at a good clip as passengers danced with some difficulty due to the motion of the ship and sipped drinks in the Baltic Bar. A karaoke competition was on-going in the Admiral Pub exceeding its 1:00 a.m. curfew since everyone was having so much fun.

Almost halfway to its destination the ship begins to list to one side but no one knows why. Ten minutes later there is three feet of water in the car deck. Then furniture and fixtures dislodge and as people slide and fall, many are crushed and killed. Pandemonium breaks out. Some passengers are frozen in confusion and fear unable to move. People begin to abandon the ship jumping into the black icy waters and sinking so far into its depth they don’t expect to surface. About 300 passengers had a mere 15 minutes to realize the seriousness of the situation, manage to mountain climb their way to exits, cut rafts and lifeboats and find lifejackets. Everyone is clawing for their life as the swirling heavy seas wash people in and out of lifeboats. In horror they watch in the moonlit sky as the huge ferry sinks stern first into the abyss. The screaming and crying stops as massive amounts of bubbles emerge after the capsize. A Mayday alarm had been transmitted and the Mariella arrives 50 minutes later but with great difficulty is only able to save about 12 people. Many die from hypothermia waiting for helicopters which have trouble with cables breaking as they try to raise the lifeboats. According to Wikipedia "The pilot of OH-HVG stated that landing on the ferries was the most difficult part of the whole rescue operation, however this single helicopter rescued 44 people..."

In total only 94 passengers are saved, 80 men and 14 women most between the ages of 20 - 54. Eleven children under 12 fared the worst with no survivors. The youngest was 2 months old. Of the 43 crew who escaped in their orange suits 31 were men and 12 were women. Majority of the victims were Swedes (502) and Estonians (280), followed by Latvians (20), Russians (12), Finns (10), Danes (5), Germans (5), Norwegians (6) Lithuanians (4), Moroccans (2), French (1), Dutch (1) Nigerian (1) Canadian (1) Great Britain (1) and Belarusian (1). Total 852 dead. The vessel sunk south of the little island of Utö, Finland in a depth of 70 - 80 metres. There are differing theories as to why this happened.   

 ©Eva Vabasalu


 Estonian Folk-dancers: a rare breed

On Saturday, April 25th Keerutajad put on its annual performance of song and folk-dance. There are 20 in the group, average age 65, who faithfully practise every Monday night through spring fall and winter accompanied by pianist Tarmo Viitre. Our folk-dance instructor, Enno Paat, pointed out we were the largest such group in Canada. The second largest being the younger Vancouver folk-dance group, the Kilplased....who by the way dance like heavenly spirits.

Not only are the Keerutajad and Kilplased the biggest folk-dance group in Canada, astonishingly they appear to be the only two active dance groups left! Few folk-dance groups seem to have survived in North America aside from the Pillerkaar in the Greater Washington DC metro area and those in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles. It’s possible that Lääneranniku Eesti Päevad, the biannual West Coast Estonian Days' cultural programme has kept the traditional folk-dancing on its feet so to speak. The next such Days will be held in Seattle, Washington from August 26 to 30, 2009 where skirts will twirl and rustle. In 2011 the Days will take place in Portland a pulsating Estonian cultural hive renown for its choral choir and superb folk-dancing troupe. One year they danced in our old barn-like structure built next to the woodland giant firs of Mission, B.C. leaving us with the most exquisite memory of folk-dance perfection.



 Fathoms down in the Baltic Sea

02 Oct 2009 


Vaatame merd ja näeme aega

Näeme, mis oli enne meid ja mis tuleb pärast.

Näeme, kust oleme tulnud, ja aimame, kuhu oleme teel.

Vaatame merd ja näeme iseennast.

Tahame, et ka meie silmades oleks sama pajlu rahu, jõudu, helgust ja saladusi, nagu näeme seda meres.

Aina tahame merelt midagi, kas või hingerahu.

Kui tahad saada, pead ka vastu andma, aga peale armastuse, austuse ja hoole ei ole meil merele midagi anda.

Meri aga annab meile elu.

Jaan Tätte

The sea is a romantic notion. While in Tallinn this past summer I had the fortune to spend a few days at the Swissôtel in a 12th floor corner room with two walls of windows one facing northward and the other east. The Gulf of Finland was a sight of beauty and every morning I counted the cruise ships stationed at the terminal. Around dinner time the vessels manoeuvered their bulks and slowly and majestically left for destinations unknown.

The Baltic Sea is approximately 4,000 years old, a young sea with a surface area of approximately 377,000 square kilometres. It is the second largest brackish sea, the first being the Black Sea. Brackish means the water has a degree of salt in it higher than freshwater but less than seawater between 0.5 and 30 grams of salt per litre. Saline water is 30 - 50 grams salt per litre. The Baltic Sea is enclosed except for a narrow channel opening to the North Sea. It has three deep basins, the Bornholm Deep at its entrance and the Gotland Deep and Arkona Deep further in. In essence it has vertical columns of water, varying degrees of brackish waters and a complex circulation system, which takes 25-30 years for a complete flush out and exchange of waters. Hence it is a sensitive system and prone to stagnation. Its deepest point measures 459 metres making it a shallow sea basin. The maximum depth of the Black Sea is 2,206 metres, Mediterranean 4,632 m. and the deepest sea is the Caribbean at 6,946 m.

Over 200 rivers spill into the Baltic Sea coming in from a large catchment/drainage area composed of many countries surrounding the sea. The catchment is four times greater than the sea itself and together it comprises a large marine ecosystem. It is realized that pesticides used in Belarus could affect a Latvian river that in turn runs into the Baltic Sea.

At any given point in time there are at least 2,000 ships on the Baltic Sea. Oil spills have occurred and discharged ballast waters have introduced hostile organisms into the Baltic altering and destroying marine species. Serious problems have been created by farm fertilizers (manure and artificial) fed via rivers into the sea as well as deposits of sewage (urban and industrial). The slow circulation flush-cycle and insufficient oxygen in the sea fails to cope with such a heavy nutrient load. 

After the end of World War II leftover munitions, live and corroded, including many chemical weapons were dumped on the sea’s crystalline basement floor. Due to such instability factors it was decided they were best left alone and untouched. There are also more than 5,000 sunken aircraft, ships and other objects lying on the Baltic seabed, many containing oil and other contaminants. Fifty to sixty years ago barrels filled with mercury were discarded off the coast of Sweden into the waters in a time when there were no environmental restrictions.

The good news, and at this point we really need some don’t we, is that nitrogen and phosphorous levels have as of late decreased significantly. Helsinki Commission (Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission) through its Baltic Sea Action Plan has a vigorous and ambitious programme to restore the Baltic back to health by 2021. EU is working on "An integrated framework to address the challenges and opportunities of the Baltic Sea region." Coalition Clean Baltic advocates "Nobody can do everything but everyone can do something."  It is recognized that the challenges remain monumental.

The M/S Estonia sank 15 years ago on September 28, 1994 in the Baltic Sea taking 852 lives. One of the victims was Aivar Zelmin, 27, along with his two little Estonian daughters Krete, 2 and a half years, and Katre 2 months old. Their bones lie in this desecrated place. Over the years and particularly in the past two months they have been knocking at my soul. Such taps led me to ponder their sea graves and descend fathoms into the Baltic.


 ©Eva Vabasalu




Gutenberg’s genius paved the way for Luther and Estonian literacy


Fifteenth century Europe was a transitional period between the medieval dark ages‚ and middle ages. Two German giants were born into this era - Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith from Mainz, a city west of Frankfurt, in 1400, and Martin Luther in 1483. It would be interesting to know how Luther would have made out without Gutenberg, as it was Gutenberg who in the middle 1450's had an ingenious idea - movable type. The previous form of printing was done on wooden presses carving out the background on a single wooden block leaving a raised impression (like a rubber stamp), and pressing a sheet of vellum, a high quality parchment (made from calfskin, lambskin or kidskin) over the mold. This was block printing, slow and very expensive. 

Gutenberg began exploring with single alphabet re-useable molds carved out of wood that would be dropped into sockets with appropriate spaces to form words and sentences making printing a far less costly and time consuming process. In 1455 he produced the two-volume Gutenberg Bible, Latin edition, equivalent in price to 3 years of an average man wages. Later Gutenberg’s metallurgical experience enabled him to create metal molds, which required switching from a water-based ink to an oil- base as metal needed an ink that was thick and sticky. The metal alloy had to be soft enough to cast into a mold, yet durable enough to withstand the pressure of a new printing press that would now use paper. Gutenberg adapted old wine and cheese presses for printing purposes, kicking off a media force that would revolutionize society. The result being that millions of books had been printed after the advent of movable type by the time of Gutenberg’s death in 1468. His method letterpress printing was used for the next 400 years until 1886, when the Linotype Composing Machine became the next greatest advance in printing history. 

Incidentally, Gutenberg was not the first to come up with movable type, however it is unlikely he had prior knowledge of the Chinese invention of movable type (in 1041), a process they abandoned due to the thousands of Chinese characters which made the method inefficacious. 

Astonishingly, 1483 was still nine years before Christopher Columbus anchored the Santa Maria in the Bahamas, 14 years before Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) explored the eastern coast of Canada or prior to Leonardo da Vinci painting The Last Supper. The earth was considered flat, and common thought held that the sun, moon and stars revolved around its edges. 

Into this world was born Martin Luder on November 10, 1483. (He later called himself Luther.) He endured a strict and oppressive childhood at the hands of his mother and the Latin school he attended. He enrolled in the University of Erfurt and in the same year was caught in a lightning storm where hurt and frightened he made a pact with St. Anne that if he survived he would become a Monk. This was distressing news to Luther‚s father who had expectations that his son would complete his law studies to become a lawyer. True to his word Luther sought out the life of an Augustinian Monk. 

In 1512 he returned to university and rose to Theology Professor at Wittenberg University. On reading Romans 1:17 he realized that God’s grace was not received through behaviour or good works, it was simply received through faith and a direct relationship with God. 

Two years later he was ordained a Priest. What particularly galled Luther was the sale of indulgence slips by the Catholic Church that for a price would exonerate a sin. (Gutenberg had mass-produced these slips for the Church.) Wanting to reform the Catholic Church, Luther sent his 95 Theses in a letter to his church superiors. The reformation was born causing wild excitement. The Catholic Church, the only Christian church in existence considered Luther a heretic and attacked, inducing Luther, a prolific writer, to defend his theses in three books Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, The Babylonian Captivity and The Freedom of the Christian Man, books which in their essence developed an independent theology. 

On June 15, 1520 there was an inquisition ordering Luther to retract his teachings. Luther burned the Papal Bull of excommunication. On January 3, 1521 the pope excommunicated Martin Luther and three months later he was commanded by the 21 year-old Emperor Charles V to appear before the Imperial Diet [court] in Worms, located on the Rhine River south of Frankfurt. Although there was very strong support for Luther in the country the authorities considered him a heretic. The Emperor and the Church wanted Luther to surrender his maverick teachings (one of which was a priest’s right to marry) however in Luther’s corner were powerful royal allies who wanted the Church’s influence over Germany reduced and many resented Germany’s money going to Rome. Especially invaluable to Luther was Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, a Roman Catholic with vise-like connections in Rome, a sovereign who supported Luther’s work and a man who had helped Emperor Charles V get elected. Frederick, a masterful diplomat, insisted that Luther deserved a fair hearing in his jurisdiction at the Court of Inquisition. 

After two hearings, Luther, who was a volatile personality and subject to outbursts, was declared an “outlaw”‚ with the consequences being that he could be killed by anyone without penalty or retribution. For his own safety Luther was kidnapped by his friends (with Frederick’s knowledge) and hidden at Wartburg Castle. While in exile he translated the New Testament from Greek into German. A year later, in 1522, when the more radical fractions of the reformation had gained control, Luther returned to Wittenberg, his university town. 

At 41 years of age Luther married Katharina von Bora, a former nun and a woman 16 years younger, and together they had six children. The couple also took in his sister’s six children. Luther, an enthusiastic singer, published The One Who Sings Prays Double, and in 1530 completed his translation of the Old Testament. 

To the end of his life he railed against the Catholic Church. Great as this man’s vision, conviction and courage was, it is sad to report he wrote the anti-semitic book Jews and Their Lies in 1543 and Against the Papacy of Rome Founded by the Devil in 1545. (Lutheran Churches have distanced themselves from these writings.) Luther continued teaching at Wittenberg University until his death in the town of his birth, Eisleben, in 1546. 

Lutheran reformers came to Tallinn in 1523, and in 1525 a book of common prayer was published in Lübeck with text in Estonian, Livonian and Latvian but all copies were destroyed by the Lübeck Council who called it Lutheran silliness. A Lutheran catechism printed in Germany in 1535 was translated into Estonian by Johann Koell. A part of this book has survived. Printing offices were established in the academies of Tartu (in 1631) and Tallinn (in 1633) under the Swedes, who strongly promoted education. Estonia was one of the first Northern countries to print books, although in Tartu they were restricted to scientific books in Latin, but in Tallinn the enterprise was private and printing of clerical books was profitable. 

A great debt is owed to Bengt Gottfried Forselius, a Swede, who trained Estonian schoolteachers how to teach reading and writing in peasant schools in the 17th century. When famine and war followed in the late 17th and early 18th century, and school attendance was impossible, learned peasants homeschooled and Estonian literacy continued to grow. An incentive to learning to read was also due to the stipulation by the Swedish church law that in order to be confirmed one had to be able to read the catechism, since without confirmation one did not have the right to marry. 

©Eva Vabasalu




Hemingway and Two Estonians

It had been two days since the Mariner of the Seas left the port of Valparaiso, Chile and with 3,800 passengers aboard sailing southward toward Cape Horn, South America. Each morning my husband and I went to the formal dining room for breakfast to meet interesting people from different parts of the world. And so began the morning of Friday, February 4th at a table of five with a blond lady next to me from Vancouver Island and one other couple from Ohio. The breakfast morning conversation turned to talk of travel documents and I mentioned that my husband had a Canadian passport and an Estonian passport. The lady next to me announced rather excitedly "My mother was Estonian!" She said that her mother barely escaped the clutches of Russian occupation, had married a Greek and further that she, Crissa Constantine, sitting next to me, had spent childhood years in Greece. 

"Your name sounds familiar, " I said.

"There was a book written about my mother," she added, "called Banished from the Homeland."

I said "I wrote a review about that book for the Postipoiss, the local Estonian newsletter in Vancouver." 

She replied, "I wrote the book!"

What are the odds? 

The next port stop was Ushuaia, Argentina, population 64,000, the most southerly city in the world on the island of Tierra del Fuego. The tender boats taking passengers from the ship to the city was running 3 hours late and my husband said "Well it's not the end of the world if we don't get off to see it."

"Actually, it is the end of the world," said I amused. 

Ushuaia is a cold place at latitude of -54.8 degrees S. Tallinn's latitude is 59.4 degrees N. Ice water currents from the Southern Ocean, so named in 2000, account for the cool summer temperatures averaging 5 to 12.5 Celsius in December through March. After a city walking tour we were in the tender boat when my husband heard some Estonian being spoken. We introduced ourselves to a couple from Tartu and the gentleman commented that Hemingway had said there's at least one Estonian in every port. I asked, "Did Hemingway actually say that?"

In Hemingway's book To Have and Have Not published in 1937 there is a 13 line paragraph mentioning 2 Estonians aboard a 34 foot yacht in Key West, Florida who wrote articles about their sea adventures and sent them back to Estonia earning $1.00 to $1.30 per column. Papa H. went on to say other Estonian sailors, some 324 of them, were sailing round the world and their stories too met print in Estonia under a column entitled Sagas of Our Intrepid Voyagers. Hemingway surmised that such articles were as exciting for Estonians to read as sport features were for U.S. newspaper readers. Contrary to a multitude of internet reports, the popular quote "In every port in the world, at least two Estonians can be found" or some similar version of it was not written by Hemingway per se. What he wrote according to my research was: "No well-run yacht basin in Southern waters is complete without at least two sunburned, salt bleached-headed Esthonians [sic] who are waiting for a check from their last article." Rather a mouthful and he refers to writers specifically.

As for Crissa Constantine, she is not only a writer but also a classical pianist and composer. Her beautiful music can be heard at her website:


©Eva Vabasalu




Independence Day in Vancouver -

Behind the Scenes


Eva Varangu, Vice-President of National Estonian Foundation (Eesti Sihtkapital Kanadas) was one of the speakers at Eesti Vabariigi Aastapäev.  Earlier I along with several other Chairs met her and she briefed us as to the function of ESK and what it might be able to do for us.  It’s always an uplifting delight to meet an intelligent person who has heart and soul pointed in a clear philanthropic direction. 


What the 100 people arriving at this event weren’t aware of was last minute concern about the Estonian and Canadian flags - where were they, were they ironed and whose job was it to hoist them up.  Cut to two hours later when I said to Thomas Pajur, Chair of Eesti Selts, well so what if the flags didn’t go up you put on a good event.  “Oh, I did put them up” he answered “and for proof  I’ll go out and take a photo.”  My camera went out for a photo shoot too.  So that was Sunday.


The flags were another worry on Tuesday, February 24, the actual day marking the 91st anniversary of Estonia’s declaration of freedom.  I told my husband enroute to the Baptist Church that we needed to stop in at Meie Kodu.  To our surprise when we arrived at the community centre the flags were proudly flying in full national glory.  “I have to go inside” I told him.  Then I clicked over the wooden floor in high heels toward the thermostat that was reading 27 degrees Celsius.  This must work like the car’s clock I mused so I pushed and held buttons for a while hoping to lower the temperature to 20 degrees. 


Now move in a little closer because I have to whisper this next part and promise me you won’t tell anyone - you have to move a bit closer still - really close:  the temperature in the room was dropping and the thermostat seemed to indicate that it was now at a default setting of 1 degrees which was a tad worrying as I’ve experienced frozen water pipes before and I can tell you people get kinda crazy when that happens.  I called the 1-800 number at Honeywell and talked to the next Slumdog Millionnaire in India who noticed I was calling from Canada.  According to him there was no such thing as a default setting and I should just turn the heat off for a few hours and cool things down when it got too hot.  Easy to say when you live in a steamy climate like India.   I couldn’t get the thermostat to budge, so we left with me having visions of pipes breaking, and the building complete with flag poles floating south.  Since I'm one of the directors taking care of this building I made a mental note to check the insurance policy for water damage coverage.   


Now we’re at the Baptist Church, Meie Kodu afloat or overheating is forgotten, seated in our pews we’re all entranced by Pastor Helari Puu.  He sings two solos in a rich baritone voice and better still he preaches in Estonian and I can actually understand him.  His voice is clear, the message comes from a true heart place.  As he weaves his words with such mastery I’m overcome by the soaring feeling one gets when one is at peace and mind-dancing at the same time.  Puu has a different style from Jaan Puusaag but he has the same proficiency with words and most important he is integrated and credible, in step with his words.  After the service we continue social activities downstairs over coffee and feast from a table laden with  scrumptious food.  Cameras are snapping photos left and right.  Informal speeches are made and more hymns sung.


February 24 is also Helle Sepp’s birthday and sitting next to me she tells me how beneficial sharing a date with Independence Day was to her family living in occupied Estonia from 1944 onwards.  It meant her family could celebrate this special day without giving the occupying army a reason to stop a birthday party. 


Our Estonian ancestors were enslaved for the better part of 700 years.  How different our lives are here in this magnificent country.  We’re free and that's reason enough to remember and rejoice.  The 24th is also iseseisvuspäev, madisepäev and vastlapäev.




 Letters of Emilie & Jaan 1914 - 1920

©Eva Vabasalu            

At a Pensioners' get-together in Vancouver April 28,2010 Rein Vasara spoke about a collection of letters written at the beginning of the 20th century by Jaan Unt to Emilie Moor. Vello Püss read out a selection from the letters and Raul Vabasalu gave a short overview of that period of time. Herein follows my summary of these events but first some scene-setting:

The first railway line in Estonia was constructed in 1870 by the Russian Ministry from Paldiski to Narva. By the turn of the 20th century railway lines stretched to Tartu, Valga, Pärnu and Riga. Public transportation in Tallinn consisted of horses pulling omnibuses on these rail tracks. In 1901 Konstantin Päts was employed in Tallinn as an editor for "Teataja" newspaper and in the following year writers began organizing themselves under the name Noor-Eesti with the intention of moving away from the dominating German and Russian influence on Estonian culture and developing their own sense of emancipation and uniqueness. By 1912 Noor-Eesti was legalized and proved to be a powerful publishing house. In August 1906 the Vanemuine Music and Theatre Society in Tartu officially began. In 1907 the Boy Scout movement was just getting underway in England and Girl Guides originated in 1910. 

Võrtsjärv is a small lake in Estonia located between Viljandi and Tartu. At the southern tip of the lake is a little town called Pikasilla and there lived Emilie an attractive young Estonian woman who was the love interest of Jaan Unt. In 1914 during World War I Jaan worked as an administrator in the Russian Imperial Army, the same year in which the city of St. Petersburg's name changed to Petrograd. Emilie was the sister of Jaan's best friend and he wrote to her lamenting that when he was stationed in Warsaw he had no friends there. He was lonely and wrote her about his ambition to join the police force.

In the collection of letters written to Emilie we hear only Jaan's voice. Her letters are missing. She is perhaps pedalling a Singer sewing machine making herself a new dress. By 1915 hemlines had risen for the first time from floor-length to mid-calf and women were abandoning their buttoned-up boots for a more modern-styled shoe. The latest style in Europe was flesh-coloured transparent hosiery. Apparently the first person to wear a pair of silk stockings was Queen Elizabeth I in 1560 and I assume hers were handmade, as the knitting frame had not as yet been invented.

Elsewhere, in the larger picture, Pancho Villa led the Mexican Revolution. Further north in 1914 Charlie Chaplin debuted in his first film ‘Making a Living, the Panama Canal formally opened, Einstein formulated the theory of relativity and Monet painted water lilies. In 1918 the Estonian calendar converted from Julian to Gregorian, meaning the date jumped forward 2 weeks, and in the same year Estonian women gained the right to vote. By 1920 in free Estonia there was a count of 110 automobiles in the country, the greatest number being in Tallinn decorated with white license plates beginning with the letter ‘A' followed by four black numbers. 

Over a six-year period Jaan quills Emilie 30 letters as he scuttles from one military base to another. An undated letter reached Emilie on September 22nd 1917 wherein Jaan wrote that he was in a Russian village longing to be in the Battle of Riga defending his homeland. He threw his pen into the corner of the room disgusted with himself that he was pushing a pen behind a desk "paberi määrimine" rather than participating in the midst of smoky rifle combat. 

Like many war-time stories all that is left of Jaan's ardour is a few pages of "paberi määrimine" and no firm conclusion of a happy romantic ending between the two or whether Jaan eventually became an Estonian war hero.... which I suspect did happen. Definitively what remains for us is a peep into those dusty long-ago times.




Lutheran Issues

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCiC) is composed of 5 Synods across Canada beginning on the west coast with the British Columbia Synod (56 Congregations), Synod of Alberta (149), Saskatchewan Synod (134), Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod (65) and Eastern Synod which covers an expanse from Sault Ste. Marie to Halifax some 200 Congregation, an overall count of just over 600. Not all Lutheran Congregations belong to the ELCiC. St. Peter’s Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church’s Congregation in Toronto for instance falls under the Lutheran Church in Canada (LCC) an entirely separate umbrella assembly, while St. Andrew’s Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and St. Peter’s Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vancouver's Congregations do fall under ELCiC.

The ELCiC has a set of Administrative Bylaws and each Synod also has a separate set of bylaws. Website of the ELCiC posts an Approved Model Constitution for Congregations, amended March 2006, and many if not all Congregations across Canada have adopted a near identical version of this precedent. ELCiC’s Administrative Bylaws and Synod’s bylaws supersede the Congregation’s bylaws. It is helpful to think of these 3 sets of bylaws as an inverted triangle with the dual-power base being at the top. I am not likely to surprise you when I say these bylaws are confusing to a layman. A high-powered litigation lawyer told me the bylaws were too wordy and opaque. He got no argument from me. I have come to the conclusion after treading through the voluminous bylaw maize that the Synods have a very tight grip on its Congregations and I expect added contraction.  


In April 17 - 20, 2008 BC Synod council proposed significant changes to its ‘model’ constitution: Should this congregation desire to sever its relationship with the ELCiC as provided in Bylaw 3, Section 6, the property owned by this congregation shall, prior to such event occurring, be transferred to the British Columbia Synod at a nominal consideration and the officers of this congregation shall do all things necessary to give effect to this provision.

The Eastern Synod made a similar Motion fairly recently and then withdrew it. There is however no assurance it will not revisit this Motion. Particularly noteworthy is the entire Amendments section under Article XII re the "Approved Model Constitution for Congregations," especially Section 4.


Clearly, ELCiC has suffered division created by the same-sex issue and diminishing congregations have left the ELCiC in financial difficulties. It has to do something, either be swallowed up in a merger by the larger Anglican Church of Canada or look for available funds elsewhere. There is a National Convention coming up June 25 - 28, 2009 in Vancouver.

A keynote premise of Lutheranism is for Congregations to control their property but such autonomy is endangered. The good news is that Congregations are still able for the time being to separate from the ELCiC with its assets. (Your minister might have a conflict of interest with this decision if his/her pension is with the ELCiC.) Another safeguard would be to set up a non-profit foundation and transfer assets and property to it. When it comes down to protecting the Congregation’s cash-savings perhaps it may be necessary to consider a Swiss bank account. Times are changing and the water is rising.



For many bypassers this may be just another landmark at 49th and Oak but to the Estonian Community it is the pulse of communal gatherings.

Leafing through a 30th anniversary album of the EELK which covers a period beginning September 24, 1950 when J. Sikkal was the esimees and Laine Viitre was abiesimees, it travels in time to circa 1980 where at the back of the booklet it depicts photographs of its congregational members, exhibiting pages of familiar faces in their younger years still with us and those who have moved away or passed on.

Looking at the above photograph it makes me wonder how many thousands of Estonians holding hands with their children or elderly parents have climbed up and down the steps to attend weddings, confirmations, church services, funerals, annual general meetings, Estonian Independence Days, and other such events, most of which would have been followed by open-faced sandwiches and coffee in the downstairs hall.

Meie Kodu is and has been our community hub and we are drawn here week after week, year after year, decades upon decades like moths to light. As a people forced to abandon our homeland it’s important to have such permanence and continuity. One of Meie Kodu’s best features is its safe central location; for folk-dancers the upper hall’s wooden floor has the right amount of spring in it to protect ankle and knee joints; the Estonian Society library is the cosiest of little rooms; and the small church chapel has an unequalled sense of beauty and intimacy.

Having spent ten years in community activities under this roof, I certainly want to see it kept in tact as long as possible. There are many more memories to create. We need to do everything possible to maintain and hang on to the Estonian Church Foundation as it is the essential glue and the core of our community spirit. Mäeotsa is a luxury to have but Meie Kodu is just what the words convey, Our Home.

©Eva Vabasalu    


Moon not to blame for Titantic sinking

An article about the moon being to blame in sinking of Titanic, which appeared in both the Vancouver Sun and the Toronto Star on March 7th, was in error. The hypothesis put forward was that 100 years ago, on April 15, 1912, after the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank en route from Southampton to New York City, the incident may have been due to a tidal phenomenon occurring January 4, 1912, and that the unusual high tide caused Greenland’s glacier to calve sending numerous icebergs into the Labrador Current down to the trans-Atlantic shipping lanes.

The problem is it would take an iceberg drifting with the current from Greenland northward along the coast of Baffin Bay, then southward along the Labrador coast into the Atlantic to 40 degrees latitude north (a distance of about 3,000 kilometres) two to three years.  The subject of ice movement is very unpredictable as drift speeds vary according to wind, waves, currents and the iceberg's size and shape.  Icebergs don’t travel in straight lines but undertake whimsical paths, get stuck and creep about slowly in a variety of directions.

The Titanic had been warned about icebergs in the area but these warning were not taken seriously by Captain Edward Smith, who thought the new ship was powerful enough to withstand any act of nature in its path. The Captain may also have assumed that any icebergs that were to be found at 41 degrees north latitude (same latitude as New York City) would be of an inconsequential size and no threat to the gigantic ship. So in the evening the captain was off duty, and the ship plowed ahead at nearly full speed through the slightly misty moonless night and its calm waters towards icebergs that stood 100 feet above the water... the greatest bulk of it hidden underwater. We now know the result of such over-confidence.

About tides and leaving aside icebergs: coasts experience high tides every 12 hours and 25 minutes virtually. The earth rotates around the sun (approximately every 365.25 days), and the moon orbits the earth (approx. 13.4 times a year), twice a month sun, moon and earth are in a straight line at new and full moon causing spring tides, however, when there is a 'perigee' or an Extreme Proxigean, the spring tides are stronger and higher. The distance between the moon and the earth fluctuates from 356,400 km to 406,700 km - at its closest 'perigee' distance its called 'proxigee' and at the farthest 'apogee'. The word ‘spring’ has nothing to do with the spring season as such but with the gravitational force of the sun and the moon.

Dr. Fergus J. Wood, a research scientist implied that there may be a connection between proxigee-syzygy and coastal flooding, or other weather conditions such as high coastal winds/hurricanes or any other unusual earth movements such as quakes occurring on the same day. Proxigean Tides occur as follows: January 30, 2010; March 19, 2011; May 6, 2012; June 23, 2013; August 10, 2014; September 28, 2015, November 14, 2016; May 25, 2017; January 2, 2018; July 13, 2018; August 30, 2019; October 16, 2020; and December 4, 2021 and January 21, 2023. It's suggested that coastal communities avoid the beaches on these dates and keep an eye out for any meteorological disturbances.





Moon not to blame for Titanic sinking - Part II

The word ‘iceberg’ doesn’t conjure up the same picture as the Estonian word "jäämägi" (ice mountain). Icebergs are chunks of ice that have broken off from the edges of glaciers or ice shelves. Icebergs range from small ‘growlers’ and ‘bergy bits to over 75 metres in height and hold 87% of its mass underwater. They range in colour from virgin white, blue, green to striped ones with streaks of black, grey or algae-green and are highly unstable rolling in the ocean, breaking apart and emitting a variety of eerie noises. 

One of the tallest bergs on record was spotted in 1958 in the north Atlantic at 168 metres (551 ft.) above sea level or the height of a 55 storey building. ‘Ice shelves’ are enormous floating platforms of ice found in Ellesmere Island, Canada, Greenland and Antarctica ranging from 100 to 1,000 metres in thickness and can be thousands of square kilometres in area. The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica is bigger in area at 487,000 sq. km. than the island of Newfoundland (405,720 km.). Glaciers cover 10% of land on earth and store 75% of the world’s freshwater. In Iceland many glaciers lie on top of volcanoes.

About 40,000 mid to large size icebergs calve off Greenland annually. The West Greenland Current carries icebergs northward hugging the coastline of Baffin Bay before descending into Davis Strait and the Labrador Current, obviously a route that can only be travelled when the sea isn’t frozen and why it may take an iceberg 2 years to arrive at the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Only a few hundred would make it to the Grand Banks and the average iceberg weight for this area is 100,000 - 200,000 tons - picture a cubic 15 storey building. Polar icebergs have been seen on rare occasions as far south as Bermuda, a distance of 1,373 kilometres south of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Whether originating in the Arctic or Antarctica most icebergs melt away by the time they reach 40 degrees north or south latitude.

Many ships have had collisions or near collisions with icebergs but no shipwreck is as legendary as the Titanic sinking and the loss of 1,517 lives, including the life of Captain Edward Smith in the early hours of April 15, 1912. The Titanic is a grand story about an opulent vessel grazing an iceberg and being plunged into the abyss of darkness. Question is how could it have gone so wrong: Captain Edward Smith a safety-conscious navigator ignored iceberg warnings; it was a moonless night; disorganization in the radio operators quarters; no passenger safety evacuation drills; a shortage of lifeboats; how could an unsinkable vessel sink?

Harland & Wolff’s meeting Minutes (the shipyard in Belfast that built the ship between 1909 - 1911) state time-constraints pushed it to purchase rivets of wrought-iron to secure the bow and stern haul seams from uncertified suppliers rather than steel ones, those used in the centre haul. Metallic evidence from forensic diving expeditions proved the rivets to be substandard and suggest they were pried loose when the Titanic scraped the side of the iceberg. This theory alleges that sturdier rivets in the bow’s haul seam might have at least reduced the number of compartments that ripped apart and filled with water. (What Really Sank the Titanic - Jennifer Hooper Mccarty & Tim Foecke)

After the Titanic sank an International Ice Patrol was organized in 1914 and working together with Canadian Ice Services it issues a daily analysis of iceberg activity in the North American area. Much has changed in marine navigation and safety over the past 100 years, changes borne from the Titanic disaster.

On March 31, 2012 in Belfast, Ireland on the Titanic’s shipyard site, an elaborate building ‘Titanic Belfast’ opened affording visitors the opportunity to relive the entire Titanic story.


Mother's Day in Vancouver

Mother’s Day is a day of celebration and reflection. Each of us has a mother and a grandmother whose touch whether gentle or firm has indelibly marked us. Some of us have lost our mothers to sickness or death at any early age and the embodiment of maternal nurturing may be but imaginary. Mothering is not for the fragile, hours are long and the sacrifices longer but it is the most meaningful of all occupations and its rewards monumental and unsurpassable. We the lucky ones are those whose mothers have been strong, protective and loving giving us a solid precedent of footprints and a cache of soft nostalgic memories. It is these women, the strong and the weak, we celebrate each 2nd Sunday in May. 

Each year mothers are honoured by the Estonian Society and the Pensioners’ Club "Kuldne Klubi" in Vancouver. Krista Tanner made a wonderful heartfelt speech on May 13 to the 48 Kuldne Klubi attendees. In a room that was filled with huge vases of fragrant lilacs and lily of the valley bouquets she so masterfully spoke about the delights of motherhood, witnessing the secrecy of children disappearing into their rooms with sheets of red construction paper after issuing instructions not to open their doors. She illuminated the joys of grandmothers, pointing out that Mother’s Day was a day when grandmothers didn’t have to do anything at all, they didn’t have to eat a breakfast of burnt soggy toast and sip flat ginger-ale, they could just sit back rest on their record and wait for a telephone call, a bouquet, a lunch invitation or a card. Perhaps the happiest on Mother’s Day are grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

©Eva Vabasalu



Organizational strife 

15 Sep 2008    ©Eva Vabasalu

Branimir Schubert has written an excellent article, Organizational Pain.  He  points out that two of the biggest mistakes organizations make is that they either ignore problems or do not diagnose problems correctly, choosing to call them something other than what they are. He states that ineptitude is particularly common in religious organizations because the thinking is that Christians should not have problems or any pain. 

Schubert iterates that symptoms of an unhealthy organization are low morale, lack of cooperation, little enthusiasm, complaining, blaming, shaming, micro-managing and using coercive power tactics. Poor leaders seek a place of camouflage rather than turning bow into the wind whereas effective leaders spur into action at the first sign of dissent, paying attention to any harsh gossip circulating, following up on any complaints, listening impartially to all sides, seeking first to understand then to be understood. Competent leaders zoom in on the root of the problem. 

Resolution through mediation is ideal but what do we do when an internal resolution cannot be reached? 

Many, though not all Estonians, seem to think that turning to the legal system for resolution of a dispute is somehow wrong. The danger here is that if we have no recourse to the courts our democratic rights are obliterated, thereby opening the door for dictatorship and its Alpha personalities to stomp in and lock up the place. 

Rev. Walter Johanson of St. Peter's Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vancouver once quoted the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XVI which says "lawful civil ordinances are God's good creatures and divine ordinances in which a Christian may safely take part...". I agree. 

In my view there is nothing disrespectful in seeking remedy from the courts. Civil rights are a valuable cornerstone in our democratic society, the glue that gives peace a chance, and wisely the law ensures our civil rights stay in place even if we privately give them up. Our Canadian legal system though not perfect stands to give us a reasonable crack at justice. Some may call legal intervention treason; I see it as a fundamental instrument in keeping our society orderly and free.








I grew up in Toronto in the 50's and 60's not far from the Estonian House, Eesti Maja. My mother wanted me to join in the activities of the Estonian youth but I was against it and consequently had very little to do with anything Estonian. But an interesting thing happened to me when I acquired a friend who lived in Estonia and she invited me to visit. I booked a ticket to fly to Tallinn on August 20, 1991. The night before, Russian tanks had cruised the streets of Tallinn as the coup d’etat in Moscow played out. The Finn Air 747 plane left for Helsinki half empty. 

On the Friday, August 23, it was the 52nd anniversary of the 1939 Molotov Ribbentrop Non-Agression Pact subjugating Estonia to Russian occupation and there was a demonstration at Pikk Hermann which we attended. I found myself standing next to my fellow countrymen and women, watching the flag hoisted, as the shoulders of the woman in front of me heaved up and down and a handkerchief continually going up to her eyes. My friend Lya said, "We have all agreed to eat potato peels, if necessary, to get our freedom". While the crowd sang young girls in traditional costume ran amongst the nearby rosebushes, unaware of the monumental changes occurring, a fact not lost on me as I stood there feeling incredibly astonished that I, a fringe Estonian, was witnessing this wondrous history in the making. Ceremony over, we drove the back country lanes where many people stood by fires at the side of the road waving the blue, black and white flag. Cars flashed their lights on and off and I encouraged our driver to honk. It was a night of unparalleled solidarity, marking the second time Estonia was independent in the 20th century. 

Back in 1971 census figures showed that the Estonian ethnic group in Canada was frozen. A low reproductive age group, compounded by assimilation into non-Estonian marriages, and no immigration from Estonia to speak of, were strong indicators the Estonian population was endangered. The population in Estonia was l.36 million people as of August 2003, about 900,000 being blood Estonians. The birthrate overall in the country is 13,000 to a death rate of 18,355. This translates to a low fertility rate of 1.3 children averaged out per woman. Worldwide there are approximately one million Estonians, with roughly 160,000 Estonians living outside their homeland. Estonian communities larger than 1,000 people can be found in only 11 countries. 

Looking at the state of our organizations and churches it is clear that we are short of people. The few able-bodied volunteers are overburdened. Lennart Meri spoke these poignant and haunting words in 1994: "Are these the first signs of weariness? No, we are not weary, and we will not become weary.. We have never tired throughout the seven centuries of carrying our country within ourselves." If our ancestors could carry their country in their hearts for seven centuries, twenty-eight generations, I am certain that we can and will muster the resolve and energy to keep our Estonian heritage alive and flourishing.

©Eva Vabasalu





Portrait of a 20th century Estonian 


My mother knew what an Estonian was. Estonians were hard workers, literate, and by virtue of their nationality very intelligent - so said my mother in her lifetime. She recounted that Estonians spoke the most beautiful language in the world and most spoke more than one language so not to make fun of those who mispronounced "th" as "zee." 

Children were expected to finish every scrap of food on their plate or else it was time to snap off a mitt-full of stripped-of-their-leaves lilac branches to drive the point home with each thrash. It was a good practice, just to be safe and perceived as humble, for Estonian-Canadians to apologize for their not-up-to-scratch Estonian language skills.

An Estonian who did not eat herring was suspect and a probable candidate for capital punishment, a view she said most Estonians quite rightly endorsed. Herring was eaten with sour cream and chopped green or white onions, but under no circumstances could you substitute rosemary or something utterly ridiculous like watercress as herring had to be eaten strictly with dark rye bread cut 3/16th of an inch thick in concert with some hard-boiled egg or potato. A true Estonian did not eat pumpkin in any other form but pickled. A sure fire way to discern whether one was pure Estonian was if they sprinkled dill on everything and as a dessert enjoyed raw eggs whisked creamy with a lot of sugar. If not there was something suspect in the woodpile.

Estonians watched Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights and when women left the room the men turned on the hockey game, maybe taking a sip of homemade beer. When visiting an Estonian home there was the imperceptible smell of sauerkraut or sometimes an odour of mothballs masking the cabbage. Their Scandinavian teak furniture was ensconced amidst earth-coloured furnishings, and leather-engraved photograph albums rested under coffee tables that were decorated with Swedish crystal perched on finely crocheted doilies. Photos of Tallinn and dolls in traditional folk-costumes abounded as well as copies of Meie Elu or Vaba Eestlane. Open-faced smoked salmon sandwiches (laced thick with lashings of butter) would be served, along with coffee imbibed with heavy fresh cream. And if it was a birthday (pronounced "bursday") then cake and kringel followed. A little dish of paper-wrapped candies with pictures of cows on them might follow.

Estonians wore 23-karat red-gold wedding rings on their right hand and went to church regularly at Easter and Christmas. Estonians only laughed out loud with other Estonians; to the rest of the world they exhibited a mask of scary seriousness. Compliments were considered suspect, though criticisms were a safe A-okay conversation starter. A frequent sighting was the hand signal, the palm sweeping downward in a gesture expressing some level of repugnance. Estonians were right-handed and incidentally all shared the same handwriting style, one enigmatic squiggle being good for letters n, m, u, v and w.


©Eva Vabasalu


Remembering the MS Estonia

Sunday, September 28, 2008 will mark the 14th anniversary of the sinking of the MS Estonia ferry which sank in a mere 45 minutes in the middle of the Baltic Sea south of the little island of Utö, Finland in a depth of 70 - 80 metres at 1:48 a.m. Purchased by Nordström & Thulin the ferry was chartered out to two different companies and registered in the name of Estonian Shipping Co. in Cyprus and Estonia. It had a carrying capacity of 2000 passengers. On this fatal crossing there were 989 people on board. The majority of the victims were Swedes (502) and Estonians (280), followed by Latvians (20), Russians (12), Finns (10), Danes (5), Germans (5), Norwegians (6), Lithuanians (4), Moroccans (2), French (1), Dutch (1), Nigerian (1), Canadian (1), Great Britain (1) and Belarusian (1). Total 852 dead. 137 survived.

The official report claimed the 50 ton bow door (visor) and car ramp had severed due to heavy seas, the visor coming apart in such a way that it didn't set off a warning signal to indicate the door had come ajar. The Estonia Agreement 1995, signed by Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Russia, Sweden and Great Britain, the treaty prohibits the citizens of these countries from visiting the site of the wreck and the waters are controlled by radar and the Finnish Navy.

Anders Björkman, M.Sc. Naval Architect and Marine Engineer is an avid critic of the Swedish government's conclusions regarding the cause of the vessel's sinking and has written extensively on this subject. He contends wave loads of 4 metres could not cause malfunction of the bow door (visor) or locks to fail and in his opinion of January 2001 believes the visor did not drop off the vessel at any time. According to Björkman the bow door was removed from the ferry underwater by the Swedish navy after the accident happened when the vessel lay on the ocean floor. The Bow Visor Separation 2.8.

Writing in the New Statesman May 23, 2005 "Death in the Baltic: The M16 Connection" Stephen Davis a TV producer and former newspaper editor claims that while he was investigating another worldwide smuggling operation he was advised by a retired M16 agent whom he had known for a long time to look into the U.K.'s and the Baltic countries role in the Estonia disaster. The M16 officer told him there were electronic guidance systems for missiles being smuggled from Russia to the West on the MS Estonia when it sank and M16 on behalf of the CIA had been involved with this operation. He alleges Britain and Sweden were stealing Russian military equipment and surmises that possibly a Russian mine was placed on the MS Estonia intending to be a strong warning but events careened out of control. 

Also Davis informs that earlier in August 2000 Gregg Bremis an American businessman, (owner of the submerged Lusitania sunk by Germans during WWI) a diving and salvage expert teamed up with Jutta Rabe to launch an independent investigation of the MS Estonia wreck. They organized a dive, filmed the hole found near the bow and took metal from the bow for testing. The metal analyzed by U.S. and German test laboratories concluded it had changed form as metal does when exposed to an explosion. Later Gregg Bremis was advised by the U.S. State Department to terminate his investigation.

Christopher Bollyn writes in Ill-fated Estonia Ferry Used for Weapons Transfers (Part I) that on November 30, 2004 Swedish television, Uppdrag Gransknning, interviewed Lennart Henriksson, a former Stockholm chief customs official with 38 years of customs experience who said he had been ordered to permit vehicles carrying Russian military technology to pass without inspection on September 14 and 20, 1994. Such orders he said came from the commander of the Swedish Military and general director of Swedish customs. According to Davis in this broadcast Henriksson confirmed M16 involvement.

Bollyn iterates that Henriksson's radio interview spurred an outcry from the Swedish public concerned about public risk and Johan Hirschfeldt a high court judge was appointed by the Swedish prime minister to specifically investigate whether the equipment transported on the MS Estonia was explosive. Hirschfeldt reported the transported equipment was not explosive and remarked that military defense transfers and intelligence activities are state secret by law; in fact it was illegal for people in the know to discuss covert activities and added all documents relating to transportation of defense material and intelligence activities had been destroyed 10 years ago as per regulations. Even he was not at liberty to discuss what he had learned and furthermore any existing information relating to these matters had to remain classified for 70 years.

All in all this is a short list of strange and unusual behaviour relating to the sinking of the MS Estonia and its aftermath. The disappearance of 9 crew members including Captain Avo Piht who was off duty the night of the disaster but whose name was recorded as a survivor in a helicopter log book is yet another unsolved piece of the puzzle. Whether Mr. Bollyn is prone to hallucinations and fantasy or whether he is a brave investigative journalist is a lingering question laden with intrigue. He certainly has a compelling writing style and fastidiously details his evidence in a most persuasive manner. 

The other night I heard Tom Smothers of Smothers Brothers' fame articulate a statement that at first struck me as amusing before it smacked a serious chord. "Truth is what you get other people to believe."

©Eva Vabasalu







Tango - Argentine and Finnish

In Europe in the early 1800's the waltz was considered immoral because of its closed-dance position. Such close contact held over an extended period of time was frowned upon. Men wore gloves and did not touch the woman's waist before the music began. In New England in the late 19th century the female leg was never glimpsed as it was hidden under long ankle-length skirts - even tables, chairs and piano legs were covered up. 

The origins of tango are mysterious. Some claim it began as a country dance in England in 1650 and evolved through France, Spain, Cuba to Argentina and Uruguay in 1850. In the 1880's during mass immigration from Europe and Africa into the outskirts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo the small accordion-like bandoneóns once played in the churches of Germany found a new audience. The melancholy sounds of the bandoneóns resonated with an overabundance of lonely men as they performed the habanera-steps of the tango in the underbelly regions of swelling cities. 

In 1910 Ricardo Güiraldes, a well-to-do Argentinian playboy poet who associated with Bohemians in Buenos Aires, wrote a poem entitled "Tango" and performed the dance in Paris, France where it was well received. From there the new movement burgeoned throughout Europe. 

In 1913 a Danish couple performed the tango at the Börs Hotel in Helsinki to great success. Finns embraced the German Tango with its heavy march-like beat. During the Second World War, when communication were cut off, the Finnish Tango took on its own distinct identity. The wildly popular Finnish lyrics sung by men tended to concentrate on lost love, loneliness and a yearning for paradise. Popular tango singers were Olavi Virta, Henry Theel and Eino Grön, Reijo Taipale and composers Toivo Kärki and Unto Mononen, all of whom propelled the Finnish Tango into legendary status. 

In Buenos Aires, Carlos Gardel, a French immigrant, handsome with an appealing tenor voice, against the advice of his friends performed a tango song "Mi noche triste" (My sad night) about a pimp longing for the return of his prostitute. It was the year 1917 and Gardel's first public appearance in a live theatre. He received a rousing standing ovation. By the 1920's he was an international star having recorded many huge hits including "Mi noche triste" thus setting in stone the Argentine Tangos' reputation as a dance of ill repute. While on a promotional tour, leaving Colombia for a radio interview, Gardel's plane crashed. His death brought Buenos Aires to its knees. Everything stopped. Gardel is commemorated every year on Argentina's National Tango Day, December 11th. 

On September 30, 2009, UNESCO's Intergovernmental Committee of Intangible Heritage proclaimed tango part of the world's cultural heritage. Tango festivals Tangomarkinnat are held yearly in Seinäjoki, Finland. Tango may breathe innocent in Finland, but in Buenos Aires the sultry dance of passion pants on every corner.

©Eva Vabasalu

Toronto Churches and Roads

Eesti Maja, Vana-Andres and Ehatare are located on historically interesting sites

In July 1796 Elizabeth Simcoe, wife of Upper Canada's first lieutenant governor John Graves Simcoe was on her way to visit the Playter farm on the east side of the Don Valley - now the area known as the Playter Estates - northeast of Danforth at Broadview. She was shocked to discover that the so-called bridge over the Don River was nothing but a butternut tree that had fallen across the river with a pole threaded through the protruding branches serving as a handrail. Eventually a wooden bridge was constructed over the Don River allowing horse-drawn carriages to follow Winchester St. to its eastern end at Danforth and Broadview, now a ramp to the DVP renamed Royal Drive. 

In the early 19th century the dirt road going north along the Don River ridge was called Don Mills Road or some variation thereof, tagged for the lumber mill operational at the foot of Pottery Road. By the 1820's the area acquired a new name: Todmorden, after a brewery, distillery and a paper mill sprung up in the area. The dirt road that ran along the eastern ridge of the valley was renamed Broadview in 1884 - named for the broad view over the expansive valley. On this historic road in 1960 the Estonian House at 958 Broadview opened its doors. 

Old St. Andrew's, predecessor to the church at Simcoe and King today, was the first church in Canada to introduce instrumental music. In 1857 an organ purchase caused maelstrom within the congregation. The synod ordered it to be removed, but the organ stayed put although unused until the synod relented. The church rented out pews to its congregants and grew to a point where there were too few free seats. A new St. Andrew's was erected at 73 Simcoe St. & King with Sir John A. Macdonald in attendance when the corner stone was laid in 1875. In 1963 the subway station St. Andrew was named for this church. Some members of Old St. Andrew's split from the congregation and moved to Jarvis Street into a new church built in 1878, designed by architects Edmund Burke and Henry Langley. In 1950 the Old St. Andrew's congregation on Jarvis merged with St. Andrew's United Church; a year later the church at Jarvis and Carleton became an Estonian church, St. Andrew's Evangelical Lutheran Church (Vana-Andres). 

Back in 1799 Asa Danforth Jr., an American from New York state, was contracted to build a road from York to the mouth of the Trent River and for every 10 miles completed he would receive payment for 5, with the balance to be paid on completion of the project. His crew of 40 men axed a 33 ft. wide road from the Town of York eastward to Victoria Park, continued in a northeasterly direction to Markham, along Painted Post, crossed Ellesmere, dipped through Highland Creek Valley on Military Trail, past Scarborough Campus to Colonel Danforth Trail and Port Union. This was the first road through Scarborough. The 120 mile road to the River Trent was finished December 19, 1800, however, due to complaints to the town a committee of 3 concluded in October 1802 that Asa Danforth had not satisfactorily fulfilled his contract, thus refused to pay him in full and reneged on land grants to his labourers. Between 1815-16 a second road that followed the lake more closely was cut. 

In 1977 Eesti Kodu was built on Old Kingston Road followed by Ehatare Nursing and Retirement Home in 1981 - Scarborough's original stagecoach route. Ironically, Asa Danforth had nothing to do with cutting or laying pine planks on Danforth Avenue, this was done by The Don and Danforth Plank Road Company in 1851, but such is life that the road he built is little known about and the road he did not build is called The Danforth.

©Eva Vabasalu




Tribute to Valdeko Weemees

Valdeko Veemees was many things to many people....that is the way of a human to live out different roles - as a son, a sibling, a friend, a husband, a father, grandfather, an immigrant and an Estonian. And maybe first and foremost that’s what he was, a human being of Estonian descent, endlessly indefinable and sufficiently mysterious, ever changing as he matured from childhood to a ripe old age.

I knew Valdeko primarily as Chair of the Estonian Church Foundation and a tireless compatriot of this community. The mansion, manor or castle what we call "Meie Kodu" was his domain and he ruled it as a prideful lion. Since the beginning of this foundation’s existence, about 1962 or so, he was a vital organizer and participant. I believe he was the longest serving intermittent chair from the early sixties to his last year as chair in 2007 serving a good 20 years at least, maybe more. Back in the 60's and 70's the general administration and affairs of the Foundation were conducted by a Board of 38 Directors. The Foundation’s purpose is to maintain this building and what’s in it, to keep it all in good repair. What many didn’t know was the amount of work he did - endlessly changing light bulbs, fiddling with door locks, dealing with water leaks, break-ins, doors being unlocked or personally shovelling snow in the parking lot in order to guarantee safe access to the building.

One of the stories I heard was that like many Estonians he was focused on saving money most particularly the Foundation money. So Valdeko would often fix things himself even going so far as making an earnest attempt to tune the piano. It certainly takes an unbelievable stretch of confidence to think you can tune a piano without training. It was certainly evident when he was in a large gathering especially if any applause was required. The first thing you would hear would be his quick hands (CLAP, CLAP, CLAP). I remember his attendance in the Lutheran Church. He would be dressed in elegant attire, still handsome despite the toll of time. He sang with great gusto and was always the first one to stand for prayer or a hymn.

In his last year after his wife passed away throat cancer slowed him down, still he would come along every second Wednesday to the Senior’s Golden Club, and sit in his usual spot, at the end of one of the tables. He was understandably very quiet at the end, not really able to talk, but just came out to be with his community of friends.

He continued to live alone in his house, despite being 85 years of age, frail and sick. That on its own is astonishing. But what is most astounding is that during this time he continued to help other people. Most invalids in this situation would be cocooning, preparing for death. Not so with Valdeko. He did things differently. His way. He clearly was remarkably strong in character and chose how his sun was going to settle beyond the horizon - a graceful multi-coloured pastel sunset. A wise man said "To give service to a single heart by a single act is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer." Rest in peace, Valdeko, you’ve earned it.

©Eva Vabasalu

Viru bard and Vändra nightingale



Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, (1803-1882) was born in Kadrina, Lääne-Viru county, a country doctor, writer and acerbic intellectual who for 44 years ministered to the sick in remote regions surrounding Võru in a horse and buggy on poor roads for little money. He disdained the Baltic German Lutheran clergy for keeping the peasants of Estonia in a state of oblivion and unconsciousness. As an author of educational books wanting to offset this travesty he wrote Kalevipoeg which first appeared in a series of pamphlets beginning 1857 to 1859 to arouse national pride. 

Concurrent to Kreutzwald's epic folk writings, Russia gave the Latvians first and then the Estonians second permission to publish their own tabloids. In 1857 the first continuously published Estonian language newspaper appeared - Johann Voldemar Jannsen's Perno Postimees (Pärnu Courier). Kreutzwald was very critical of the Pärnu Courier causing Jannsen to defend himself saying "I am not writing for great and learned minds, I'm writing to enlighten the small and unknowing minds." Jannsen, who held the "Viru Bard" in high esteem, did not take personal umbrage with Kreutzwald's criticisms. Jannsen was a crucial mouthpiece as a journalist and poet, and a tireless organizer of many events including the first national song festival held June 1869. He wrote the words for "Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm" (My Fatherland, My Joy and Happiness). Jannsen was the first to use the word "Estonian" in print. The word "Eesti" itself was not used in any widespread sense earlier than the 19th century. 

In 1863 Jannsen moved his family to Tartu and began publishing a new weekly Eesti Postimees (The Estonian Courier.) His eldest daughter, Lydia Emilia Florentine who was born in Vändra on December 24, 1843, wrote articles and poems for the newspaper under her father's name as it was bad taste for a woman's name to appear in print (a "bluestocking"). When Carl Robert Jakobson, a radical member of the national movement and an eminent contributor to the The Estonian Courier, published Kooli Lugemise raamat, (School Reader), a number of Lydia's poems were included under the name "Koidula," a pen-name coined by Jakobson. Her work poignantly described national despair and blazoned hope for the future, all of which had a powerful effort on the growing identity of Estonians. The brilliance of Koidula's writing was the intense emotion she was able to ignite. 

Koidula, being her famous father's daughter, was privileged to know several prominent intellectuals including Jakob Hurt, a theologian and a moderate member of the national movement, who addressed the first song festival stressing the importance of education and a steadfast commitment to the Estonian nation. 

In November of 1867 Koidula began an intense intellectual exchange by mail with Kreutzwald, who was 40 years her senior. She initiated the correspondence which produced in total 94 letters between them. Mesmerized, Kreutzwald wrote to her after a year's correspondence saying: 

"You have enchanted me by witchcraft or some other kind of magic, so that you could lead me, as you would lead a kitten with a straw, in any direction you chose," and "I will always adore you as my ideal! You may be able to rob me of the joy of our continued correspondence, but you will not be able to erase the memory of the former joy, which will be with me till I draw my last breath. That which the boy surmised, the young man dreamed of, and the man ever dared to imagine about a woman, that for me became a reality through my acquaintance with you....." 

Mrs. Kreutzwald was alarmed and threatened by her husband's captivation but managed to rein in her husband's ardour. 

Later on when Koidula was considering a marriage suitor she consulted Kreutzwald about her choice of husband. He emphasized "personal magnetism." She married Eduard Michelson in 1873, a Latvian physician, who was very Germanized. Baltic Germans had dominated the country for so long that many had been fused in a double identity or had assimilated into the German culture altogether. Koidula herself was very proficient in speaking and writing German, as it had been the primary language spoken in her home, but as she had been instrumental in raising ethnic awareness amongst Estonians she had serious concerns about the consequences and appearances of marrying a non-Estonian. 

Koidula's glory days of writing plays and organizing song festivals atrophied due to the couple's move to Kronstadt on Kotlin Island, a short distance north-west of St. Petersburg. She continued to write to the end of her days her last book being "Before Death to Estonia." She died from breast cancer on August 11, 1886 at age 42. Koidula had two daughters, and such is irony, neither of them were raised in Estonia or spoke the language. Koidula's best work is considered to be Emajõe Ööbik (The Emajõe Nightingale) Her power to breathe soulful life into an impoverished language and her drama work gave birth to Estonian theatre at Vanemuine (a society created by the Jannsens). For further reading about Koidula's life I highly recommend the excellent book Symbol of Dawn by Madli Puhvel. 

Carl Jakobson's desperation to establish his own newspaper was blocked by the Baltic-German authorities in response to his articulate criticisms against the suppressive educational system, a common cry made by Kreutzwald and others. Jakobson was successful in publishing his newspaper Sakala from 1878 on. 

In 1992 when the kroon was reinstated as currency Koidula's portrait was printed on the 100 kroon paper money, Jakobson's on the 500 kroon and Hurt's on the 10 kroon. Estonian stamps have honoured the portraits of Koidula [1993, 2002], her father J. Jannsen [1999], Jakobson [2002] and Kreutzwald [1938]. 

Kreutzwald and Lydia Koidula were the first most dazzling bright lights of Estonian literature. Some even say that their correspondence belongs to Estonia's greatest writings of the 19th century.


©Eva Vabasalu



A Brief History of Past Lutheran Church Troubles

"Faith is not about how we feel; it is about how we live." - Ann Lamott - Plan B  Further Thoughts on Faith

On November 27, 2005 a Special General Meeting of St. Peter's Estonian Lutheran Church in Vancouver voted on the motion of allowing Rev. Walter Johanson to accept  one year's employment with the Memorial Society of British Columbia.  He was under contract to St. Peter's and the motion to the congregation was to approve employment he had already accepted.  In late October  2006 Rev. Johanson returned to his position as pastor of  St. Peter's.  

Vancouver Sun newspaper reported on Dec. 2nd, 2006  that Walter Johanson was the current Executive Director of the Memorial Society.  This was a surprise to St. Peter's council and congregation as Rev. Johanson had been given permission to work at the Memorial Society for one year only, employment to end on or about October 26, 2006.   Complaints about this breach of contract were vocalized.  Rev. Johanson used his influence to have his most vocal opponents, Tarmo Viitre and myself, removed (illegally) from council.  Walter Johanson  continued working at the Memorial Society until June 2007.   Pastors are given a salary plus free housing so that they can devote their full-time energies to ministering to the needs of a congregation.  A second occupation for a pastor is not allowed unless approved by both the Bishop synod and the congregation.  According to the bylaws, the only time consent for a second occupation may be given by the synod bishop and the congregation is if the church cannot afford a full-time pastor.  This was not the case with St. Peter's.      

Tarmo Viitre discovered that since 1997 Rev. Johanson owned and operated a secret software business, (unbeknownst to the congregation/council) sold software to  churches in North America.  Online advertisements requested that donations and payments be made to Walter Johanson at P.O. Box 1965, Point Roberts, WA, U.S.A. and advertised "ChurchOffice is a registered trademark in both the U.S.A. and Canada" accepting Visa, Mastercard and Paypal.  I have several emails which Walter sent to St. Peter's council in 2003 from so there is no doubt of any mistaken identity.    

Click on the Consultants icon at the very top of the page at this link....or double click on the first ChurchOffice image below : 

Here's a sampling of what advertised on January 23, 2003 according to  Internet Archive Way Back Machine, a web-crawling site.  Prices below in U.S. dollars:

"ChurchOfficeXP - $349.  Includes manual, toll-free support including training and satisfaction guarantee or all your money refunded for one full year.  Lease option: $29.95/month.  

ChurchOffice Enterprise $750,000.00.  Web based, parish register based membership and donations solution for the entire church, including dioceses, parishes and members.  Church or diocesan IT management is invited to call for further details.  NDA is required before discussion.

Internet Presence (web space and web servers)

Congregational starter- $99 setup plus $9.95/month.  Includes cost savers such as mailing list and e-Donate(tm).  Includes 5 permanent e-mail aliases.  Your domain can be added later.

30 GB dedicated and secure server - $5,000 setup, $1,000/month lease includes support to web administrator.

Broadcast servers (Real Audio and Media Player) - $20,000 includes setup and support for one year."

For full details click on Cost icon at top of webpage at this first link: 

Years 1998 to 2003 have a lot of details.  After Feb. 2003 costs etc. are hidden from the web-crawling snapshots:*/

Tarmo Viitre and his mother have been lifelong members of St. Peter's and have been regular Sunday attendees since 1949.  Viitre, a former longtime Chair of St. Peter's sued the church because it refused to give him a current membership list, it being a vital instrument for voting at an Annual General Meeting or any large meeting of the membership.  Walter Johanson was responsible for maintaining an accurate membership list; the reason St. Peter's council put forward for not producing it was privacy under PIPA (Personal Information Protection Act).   

Justice Pearlman on March 9, 2010 validated Mr. Viitre's opinion - members have a right to a membership list, specifically access to name of member, class of membership and their eligibility to vote notwithstanding PIPA (Personal Information Protection Act)  - thereby setting a legal precedent in Canada.  Justice Pearlman acknowledged that Viitre's litigation proceedings had the effect of correcting other bylaw infractions made by St. Peter's in the past.  The years of legal wrangling and its exorbitant cost over access to a current membership list kept and its dealings in the dark.  

By September 2011 Rev. Johanson had put his online software business up for sale at the asking price of $19,995.00 and resigned as pastor of St. Peter's. 

A further quote on faith by Ann Lamott is "The truth bats last."


March 30, 2013