Marcus Kolga: Canadians can learn from the Estonian-Canadian experience

Marcus Kolga, the current president of the Estonian Central Council in Canada, said at the Estonian independence day flag-raising ceremony in Toronto that all Canadians should know why the Estonian community came to Canada and take a note of the wonderful things they have achieved in the country.

Our families left Estonia with little more than a suitcase and the clothes they were wearing as they fled the return of Soviet terror and repression in the fall of 1944. Over a few short days, tens of thousands braved the stormy Baltic Sea and took to the war-torn roads of Europe to seek shelter, peace and freedom.

Here in Canada, and, indeed, Toronto, Estonians found each other and started building. We built churches and a school. We organised choirs and folk dancing groups. Then we built summer camps for our youth when they weren’t busy scouting or guiding the local Estonian troops. During working hours, we contributed to the building of our new homes and contributing fully to the development of this great country, Canada.

We were identified as DPs, or displaced people, and faced discrimination. Our funny-sounding names were sometimes mocked and our advocacy for Estonian independence was often dismissed as hysterical anti-communism.

Our voice in Canadian foreign policy debate was often chauvinistically marginalised by the Anglo-Saxon establishment. This deplorable attitude continues today by some former Canadian diplomats who reject Estonian, Baltic and other Central and Eastern European community concerns as being tainted by our historical experiences.

Estonian experience as Canadians should be included in school curriculums

However, it is our experiences they can learn from, and this is something that we, and our fellow Canadian should be proud of.

School children in this country, an indeed all Canadians, should know why our community came to Canada and the wonderful things we’ve achieved in this country. Our experience, as Canadians, should be included in our school curriculums. I call on each and every one of us to pledge, to achieve this in the coming year. To call our MPs and the minister of education, and tell them about us, and that other Canadians can learn from our proud Estonian experience as Canadians.

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Cover: The Estonian Central Council in Canada organised the flag raising ceremony at Toronto City Hall’s Nathan Phillips Square on 24 February 2019 (photo by Peeter Põldre). The opinions in this article are those of the author.

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