The Latvian Canadian Cultural Centre is the vibrant heart of a dynamic Latvian-Canadian community in Toronto and beyond. Where Latvians sing, dance, learn, meet, shop and celebrate. Its mandate is to foster and sustain Latvian heritage and cultural traditions and to provide a venue for social and cultural exchange with other cultural communities in Canada.
The non-profit Centre provides facilities for cultural, social, business and recreational activities for the general public and its members.
The Centre was incorporated in 1977 as a non-profit registered charity and the facility was purchased in the same year with personal donations and fundraising activities from thousands of Latvian community members and a Wintario grant. The building was remodeled and opened to the public in 1979. The Honourable William G. Davis, Premier of Ontario, and his Worship Mel Lastman, Mayor of the City of North York, officially opened the Centre in 1980. Since that time operation of the Centre has been made possible from donations and by funds raised through the hard work of volunteers in hundred of events over the years. The Centre has also received government grants for capital improvements.
The Centre has a size of approximately 4,000 m2. It is fully wheelchair accessible.
Many of the events that take place at the Centre are culturally focused and include concerts, theatre productions, lectures, and dance performances. The Centre currently provides at no charge classrooms for a heritage Latvian school as well as facilities for dance groups, choirs, and the Latvian Artisans Association in Canada. In 2022 various groups received free space 120 times. The Toronto Latvian Pensioners’ Association meets at the Centre weekly. In addition, the Centre is home to the Latvian Relief Society of Canada – Daugavas Vanagi, The Latvian National Federation in Canada, the National Youth Association in Canada, the Latvian language newspaper “Latvija Amerikā”, the Northern Birch Credit Union, the Latvia Relief and Development Fund and other organizations. The Letts Shop sells handcrafted jewellery, ceramics, textiles and food with an assortment of Latvian and Estonian delicacies.
When available, its facilities are also rented out to other groups and organizations. The Centre has a large outdoor children’s playground.
The Centre supports its day-to-day operations through memberships, facility rentals and fundraising.
The Centre’s heritage library has more than 17,000 Latvian books, magazines, CDs and DVDs and is the largest such library outside of Latvia. It also includes a children’s section.
The Centre has a significant collection of art by Latvian artists including Eduards Dzenis, Janis Tīdemanis, Janis Kuga, Visvaldis Reinholds, Margarita Kovalevska and many other well-known artists.
A scholarship fund was established in 1986 to support students in their studies of Latvian culture and history at various educational facilities. To date, more than $160,000 has been allocated for this purpose.
There are approximately 85 volunteers who participate on the Board and its committees, work in the library, garden, do groundskeeping and minor building repairs, and many other activities. As of 2023, there are three full-time employees as well as a number of part-time employees. The Centre used to have a “Birches” catering division which has been disbanded. Instead, it is now possible to rent the kitchen and its equipment for catering purposes in order to provide meals to the users of its facilities.
The Centre currently has 710 members, including 40 organizational members, which have each donated at least $1,000. Members can vote at the annual meetings and elect Board members. Since the founding of the Centre, more than 1,600 people have become members. Three honorary memberships have been awarded: Atis Sjanits, the former Latvia’s ambassador to Canada (2007), Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the former president of Latvia (2008) and Karlis Eichenbaums Latvia’s ambassador to Canada (2018).
The presidents of the Centre have been the following: Valdis Liepiņs 1979 – 1981, 1985 – 1986; Valdis Vagners 1981 – 1983, 1986 – 1989, 1995 – 1998; Harijs Jansons 1983 – 1985, 1989 – 1992; Ieva Martin 1992 – 1995; Auseklis Zaķis 1998 – 2003; Egils Fogels 2003 – 2006; Silvija Shedden 2006 – 2008; Arnis Markitants 2008 – 2010; Juris Taurins 2010 – 2013; Alberts Upeslacis 2013 – 2017; Ingmars Ozolins 2017 – 2020; Ivars Mikelsteins 2020 – 2023.
The Ladies Committee was established in 1979 and its presidents have been the following: Silvija Zeltkalns 1979 – 1982; Aina Barona-Dzilna 1982 – 1984 and 1993 – 1994; Irina Turķis 1984 – 1985; Elmara Gulbis 1985 – 1990; Dace Priede 1990 – 1993; Velga Jansons 1994 – 1999; Sofija Apinitis 1999 – 2004; Edite Apse 2004 – 2009; Laura Vasarais 2009 – 2012 and 2016 – 2019; Rasma Rugelis 2012 – 2014; Inga Zarins 2014 – 2016. The Ladies Committee has played an invaluable role at the Centre in organizing cultural and social events as well as selling Latvian food products on Saturday mornings. From the start, Sunday brunches were very popular at the Centre. Since 2021, the responsibilities of the Ladies Committee and of the Brunch volunteers have been combined into an ‘’Events’’ Committee chaired by Larisa Kalins.