ILVES, Toomas Hendrik

Some British Columbians are aware that Sir Bob Geldof began his career as a part-time music writer for the Georgia Straight; few know the President of the Republic of Estonia, as of 2006, Toomas Ilves, was involved in the management of Vancouver's Literary Storefront, with Wayne Holder, after its main founder, Mona Fertig, departed to pursue other interests in the 1980s. The intentions of Ilves and Holder to take the Literary Storefront 'upscale' with a bigger budget to attract big-name literary figures from beyond B.C. proved foolhardy. This hubris led directly to the demise of the grassroots operation.

During this period, before the Literary Storefront became officially defunct, Robert Bringhurst was also involved in Literary Storefront-related readings that were held in the West End, on Robson Street. Bringhurst was a close cohort of Celia Duthie, who was managing the main Duthie Books store on Robson. Ilves told Bringhurst in a letter that he hoped to transform Vancouver "into the cultural capital of the Western Hemisphere." As recorded by Trevor Carolan in his book, The Literary Storefront: The Glory Years (2015), the poet-novelist Theresa Kishkan has tellingly recalled how the "collegial ambiance" had eroded by the time Elizabeth Smart was invited to read at Binky's Oyster Bar on Robson Street. She describes how "... Elizabeth Smart was shepherded in, given a pompous introduction, and how the atmosphere was very, very unpleasant. She gave a good reading, but her handlers were awfully nervous that she might actually mingle with audience members afterwards and removed her from a conversation I was having with her."

In those days Toomas Ilves was known as Tom Ilves. His wife, Merry Bullock, was an assistant professor with the Department of Psychology at UBC, 1979-1984. "In his CV," says Mona Fertig, "he says that he was director of the Vancouver Art Center, which didn't exist. The Literary Storefront must have sounded too unofficial for a political candidate." Ilves taught Estonian literature and linguistics at SFU for a year, during an era when campus unrest was rampant. Rumours persisted at the time that Ilves could be involved with the CIA.

Under Ilves presidency, Estonia later became the first country in the world to introduce voting via the internet for national elections. According to Wikipedia, "He is a former diplomat and journalist, was the leader of the Social Democratic Party in the 1990s and later a member of the European Parliament. He was elected to the post by an electoral college on September 23, 2006 and his term as President began on October 9, 2006. Ilves was born in Stockholm, Sweden; his parents were Estonian refugees. He grew up in the United States and graduated from Leonia High School in Leonia, New Jersey in 1972 as valedictorian. He attended a bachelors degree in psychology from Columbia University and a masters degree in the same subject from the University of Pennsylvania. During the 1980s, Ilves worked as a journalist for Radio Free Europe and became actively involved in politics prior to Estonia's independence in 1991. Ilves subsequently served as the ambassador of Estonia to the United States, Canada, and Mexico for several years." There is no mention of his literary days on the West Coast of Canada.


Born on December 26, 1953 in Stockholm, Kingdom of Sweden
Married to Evelin Ilves
Children: son Luukas Kristjan (1987), daughters Juulia Kristiine (1992) and Kadri Keiu (2003)


1976 Columbia University (USA), BA in psychology
1978 Pennsylvania University (USA), MA in psychology

Career and public service

2006- President of the Republic of Estonia
2004-2006 Member of the European Parliament
2002-2004 Member of the Parliament of the Republic of Estonia
1999-2002 Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Estonia
1998 Chairman, North Atlantic Institute
1996-1998 Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Estonia
1993-1996 Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia to the United States of America, Canada, and Mexico
1988-1993 Head of the Estonian desk, Radio Free Europe (in Munich, Germany);
1984-1988 Analyst and researcher for the research unit of Radio Free Europe in Munich, Germany
1983-1984 Lecturer in Estonian Literature and Linguistics, Simon Fraser University, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Vancouver, Canada
1981-1983 Director and Administrator of Art, Vancouver Arts Center (Canada)
1979-1981 Assistant Director and English teacher, Open Education Center (Englewood, New Jersey, USA)
1974-1979 Research Assistant, Columbia University department of Psychology (USA)


Compilation of speeches and writings from 1986-2006: "Eesti jõudmine. Kõned ja kirjutised aastaist 1986-2006". Varrak, 2006 Tallinn.
Articles in Estonian and other newspapers and magazines.

Involvement in Civic Groups

Member of the Estonian Students Society (Eesti Üliõpilaste Selts) 1995
Member of the Trilateral Commission 2004-2006
Member of the Board of Trustees of think-tank Friends of Europe 2005
Founder of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute (Eesti Välispoliitika Instituut), Member of the Executive Committee until 2002
Honorary Member of the Latvian Students Society "Austrums"
Member of the Board, Viljandi County Municipal Fund
Board of Trustees, Estonian Academy of Arts 2004-2006
President of the Estonian Special Olympics 1997-2004
Member of the Board of Trustees of Tartu University 1996-2003
European Movement Estonia (EME) Member of the Board, Founding Member 1999-2004
Honorary Member of the Estonian Society in Belgium 2006


2001 Grand Commandeur Legion d'Honneur of the Republic of France
2004 Third Class Order of the Seal of the Republic of Estonia
2004 Three Star Order of the Republic of Latvia
2006 The Collar of the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana (Estonia)
2006 The Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath of Great Britain

Foreign languages

English, German, Spanish