The great Latvian migration (or, How we’ll spend our summer vacations)

The ancient tribes that preceded the modern Latvians were well aware of the rituals of the calendar. Certain activities were reserved for certain times of the year and were to be done in certain places. And so it is for the Latvians of North America. Summer is close and that means it’s almost time to pack up the car and go. Where? To Toronto. To one of several Jāņi celebrations. To Kursa or Gaŗezers for high school. To summer camp. Maybe even to the airport to hop a plane to Latvia.

Organizers of Latvian events in the various colonies around the continent know that from early June until late August it will be fairly fruitless to try to organize any special events. Latvians love their homes, of course, but during the summer we seem to become like weekend nomads, traveling from place to place, setting up camp, spending time with one another and then getting on the road again. Rather than counting license plates in the coming months, try keeping track of how many times you run into the same Latvians: “Hey, didn’t we meet during Dziesmu svētki?”

To help you plan—or just to keep track—here’s a selective guide to events happening this summer where you are likely to run into folks you know.

Latvian Song Festival

Toronto, site of the largest Latvian population in Canada, is playing host to the nation’s 11th Latvian Song Festival. The festival, which includes dance, song and theater performances as well as other events, is set June 30-July 3, overlapping Canada Day (July 1) and ending just in time for U.S.-resident Latvians wanting to get back across the border for the Fourth of July.

For those unfamiliar with Latvian history, the song festival tradition goes back to 1873 and is a celebration of Latvian culture as well as an affirmation of nationhood.

Among highlights of the Toronto festival, according to organizers, is to be the opening concert featuring 250 children and youths, three performances of the play “Minchauzena precības” (“The Marriage of Minchausen”), a cabaret-style concert organized by the chamber choir Dzirksts, and a concert by the ever-popular Čigākas Piecīši. Also planned are sight seeing activities and several dances.

Further information is available from the festival Web site.

Camps for kids

Sending the children off to camp is somewhat of a tradition in North America. Many of us have suffered through the experience, and now many of us are packing up our kids and sending them away, too. If it’s a Latvian camp you’re looking for, several choices are available.

In the northeastern United States, the Latvian camp in the Catskills near the tiny town of Tannersville, N.Y., has scheduled several periods. For young children three periods of the “Īkstīši” program are planned July 2-8, July 9-15 and July 30-Aug. 5. A three-week period for children who speak Latvian is set July 9-29, while a period for non-Latvian speakers is set July 30-Aug. 12. The camp is run by the Latvian Ev.-Lutheran Church of New York and more information is available on the church’s Web site.

In the Midwest, the Latvian camp Gaŗezers near Three Rivers, Mich., has three periods planned for children of elementary school age: July 2-15, July 16-29, and July 30-Aug. 12. The camp, which focuses on providing a Latvian language environment, offers children varied activities such as crafts, games, folk dancing and singing and, weather permitting, daily swimming in Long Lake. Further information about the camp is available from Gaŗezers.

And in the northwestern United States, there’s the Mežotne camp run out of the West Coast Latvian Education Center near Shelton, Wash. This year’s camp for children ages six to 13 is set Aug. 13-20. The camp also accepts four- and five-year-olds if accompanied by a parent or guardian. For further information, contact camp Administrator Vilnis Sils (telephone +1 (206) 935-2702).

In Canada, two camps cater to kids. One is Saulaine near the egalitarian-sounding Utopia, Ontario. Saulaine reportedly has scheduled periods July 12-26 for young children ages three and four, as well as programs for older children. The camp is managed by the St. John Latvian Ev.-Lutheran Church in Toronto (telephone +1 (416) 921-3327). The other camp, Sidrabene, is near Milton, Ontario , and can be reached by telephone at +1 (905) 335-2030.

If you are interested in music and want to travel to Latvia, there’s the 4th International Camp for Young Latvian Musicians scheduled July 9-18 at the Ogre Music School in Ogre. Although the registration deadline has passed, further information about the camp may be obtained from the camp’s artistic director, Dace Aperāne, 11 Cat Rocks Dr., Bedford, NY 10506. The camp program, according to Aperāne, consists of lectures, concerts and master classes in voice, composition and orchestral instruments, as well as special classes in jazz, education and dance. The music faculty features musicians from Latvia and other European countries, Canada and the United States.

Summer high schools

Children who have completed their local Latvian language schools need not stop their education there. Two programs offer a six-week summer high school experience focused on further instruction in language, culture and history.

The summer high school at the Gaŗezers camp near Three Rivers, Mich., is scheduled July 2-Aug. 12. The start date this year conflicts with the Latvian Song Festival in Toronto, which is only a few hours away by automobile, and that means several students no doubt will be arriving late to school. But when they get there, they’ll have a full schedule to tackle. More information about the school is available from Gaŗezers.

Kursa, the West Coast Latvian summer high school, is scheduled July 2-Aug. 11 at the West Coast Latvian Education Center near Shelton, Wash. For further information, contact Assistant Principal Sarmīte Dāvidsone, +1 (206) 232-6813, or Administrator Jogita Jurevska, +1 (650) 359-4025.

Sveika, Latvija!

For the fourth year in a row, the American Latvian Association is sponsoring the “Sveika, Latvija!” excursion for youth who have recently finished their local Latvian school. The program covers part of the cost of round-trip air travel and a two-week tour around Latvia. This year’s program is scheduled Aug. 16-30 and includes a route that expects to take the youths through all four Latvian provinces and Riga, showcasing historical, natural and religious landmarks. If nothing else, the program has been successful in forming lasting friendships with Latvian youth in North America who keep in touch with each other by telephone and e-mail.

Further information, including photographs of previous trips, is available from the ALA’s “Sveika, Latvija!” Web site.

Sveiks, Dzimtene and Baltija

So why should children have all the fun? The American Latvian Association also now sponsors a program for adults called “Sveika, Dzimtene!,” with the premise that many participants could be long-time exiles who have never been back to their homeland. Three trips are planned this year: one already underway that is to conclude June 5, another running July 6-20, and a third set July 27-Aug. 13. The last trip expands the range of the excursion outside of Latvia and is known as “Sveika, Baltija!”

The registration deadline for all three trips has passed, but further information about the program is available from Anita Juberte in the ALA office in Rockville, Md., telephone +1 (301) 340-1914, as well as from the “Sveika, Dzimtene!” Web page.

3X3 culture camps

Adults and families have found the 3X3 culture camps a welcome way to spend a week immersed in study, craftwork, singing and other activities. Camps this year are planned in the United States, England and Latvia.

In the Latvian church camp in the Catskill Mountains near Tannersville, N.Y., the 3X3 camp this year runs Aug. 13-20. Among some of the featured instructors and guest lecturers scheduled to appear are former Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis, Latvian-American composer Dace Aperāne, silversmith Juris Kļaviņš and folklorist Austris Grasis. The camp includes two programs for children. Further information about 3X3 in the Catskills is available from Ingrīda Jansone.

The 3X3 camp at the Gaŗezers Latvian camp near Three Rivers, Mich., also runs Aug. 13-20. Among the featured instructors and speakers expected are journalist Frank Gordon and professor Paulis Lazda in politics, potter Gundega Peniķe and silversmith Lilita Spure. The camp also plans three programs for children from toddlers to 12-year-olds. Further information about the Gaŗezers 3X3 camp is available from Amanda Jātniece, telephone +1 (715) 258-6107.

Further information on the 3X3 culture camp movement, as well as on all the specific camps scheduled this year, is available from the 3X3 Web site.

(Editor’s note: This article orginally appeared on

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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