Finland is the second most northerly country in the world, and its identity and history have been greatly influenced by a rugged landscape. Forests cover 65 percent of the land, while the proportion of the country’s arable land is only 8 percent. Although one-third of Finland’s total length lies north of the Arctic Circle, its temperatures are ameliorated by proximity to the seas, so that its climate and landscape resemble that of northern Ontario.
Finland covers an area of 338,000 square kilometres, and it shares borders with Sweden and Norway in the north and Russia in the east. To the south and west, it is bounded by the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Finland, and the Gulf of Bothnia. The coastline is adorned with over 30,000 islands including the Åland (Finnish: Ahvenanmaa) Islands.
The landscape, especially in eastern Finland, is littered with 188,000 shallow lakes, which take up 10 percent of Finland’s surface area. Numerous shallow rivers connect the many lakes into extensive inland waterways. Throughout their country’s history, Finns have tried to maximize the benefits of the waterways and the forests, often called the “green gold” of the land.
The present-day Finns are descendants of people who began to move into the area now known as Finland about 10,000 years ago following the retreat of the continental ice sheet. These earlier settlers later mixed with migrants from the east Baltic region who arrived at the beginning of the first millennium c.e., as well as with migrants from Sweden.
Life during these early centuries was characterized by a constant struggle for survival. Crops were frequently obliterated by early frosts, and starvation and disease checked population growth. Hence, as late as the middle of the eighteenth century, Finland’s population had barely reached half a million. During the century after 1750, which coincided with the early stages of industrialization, Finland’s population quadrupled and by 1915 it had reached three million. Today, Finland has just over five million inhabitants, 60 percent of whom live in urban areas. Most are concentrated in the south and southwest, including the capital region of Helsinki. Despite such demographic growth, Finland remains one of the most sparsely populated countries of Europe.
Finland recognizes two official languages: Finnish and Swedish. The Swedish-speaking Finns comprise about 6 percent of the population. In the past, the proportion of Swedish-speakers was much higher, about 14 percent at the outset of the twentieth century. In present-day Finland, Swedish is mainly spoken along the southern and western coasts as well as on the Åland Islands. Notwithstanding the presence of Swedish-speakers and other smaller groups (Sami/Lapps and Roma/Gypsies), Finland remains one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries of Europe.
Homogeneity also characterizes Finnish religious life. The pre-Christian Finns practised a pantheistic nature religion and were guided by shamans. The Roman Catholic Church came to Finland in the twelfth century from Sweden. About the same time the Orthodox Church was converting Finns in the eastern part of historic Finland known as Karelia. During the Reformation in the early 1500s, Finland together with other Scandinavian countries became wholly Lutheran and a strong state-church emerged. In addition to spiritual leadership, the Lutheran Church was responsible for education, health, and social services, and it functioned as the local government in rural regions. It was only in 1870 that church and local government were separated and public schools became independent of the church. Today, 87 percent of the Finns belong, at least nominally, to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which continues to be the official state church of Finland. Only 1 percent of Finns are Orthodox and 2 percent belong to dozens of other religious groups. While the last hundred years have witnessed a strong secularization in society, the majority of Finns attend Lutheran church functions at least during rites of passage.
The history of Finland can be divided into three main periods that reflect the political status of the country: the Swedish era (1155–1809), the Russian era (1809–1917), and the era of independent statehood (1917– ). Throughout all three eras, Finland has been a meeting place between eastern and western traditions and cultures. When the first state structures arose in the region during the eleventh century, Finland was squeezed between two powerful countries, the Rus’ city-state of Novgorod in the east and Sweden in the west. In 1155 Finland was incorporated into the Kingdom of Sweden and for the next four centuries Swedish rule was entrenched in southern Finland and part of the Karelian Isthmus between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga. During the century after 1560, Swedish control was extended farther into northern Finland and eastward into Karelia along the western and northern shores of Lake Ladoga.
During the Swedish period, Finland adopted the Scandinavian legal and social systems, and Swedish became the language of culture, education, and government. Sweden’s domination of the Baltic region came to an end following its defeat by Russia in the Great Northern War (1700–21). Although it was forced to cede some Finnish territory (including Karelia) to Russia, Sweden managed to hold on to the rest of Finland. Nevertheless, military conflict between Sweden and Russia continued throughout the eighteenth century and the Finns suffered greatly during the invasion of their territory by tsarist Russian troops. Swedish rule did not end in Finland until the Napoleonic era, when in 1809 Russia defeated Swedish forces and their Finnish peasant allies.
As part of the Russian Empire, Finland (including Karelia) was granted the status of an autonomous Grand Duchy. The country was allowed to keep its Lutheran religion and its Western-style laws and government. During the first half of the nineteenth century, Finnish patriots were swept up by romantic nationalism, which strengthened the position of the Finnish language. A major achievement of the movement was the publication by Elias Lönnrot of the first version of Kalevala (1835), a collection of mythological poems of epic proportion. The stirring verse of Johan Ludvig Runeberg transformed him into Finland’s national poet, although the mood of the nationalistic Finns was perhaps best expressed by the composer Jean Sibelius in his several symphonies and passionate tone poem, Finlandia (1899).
The peaceful co-existence with Russia began to deteriorate during the reigns of the empire’s last two tsars, Alexander III (1881–94) and Nicholas II (1894–1917). They implemented restrictive legislation to curb Finnish autonomy and ordered the conscription of Finnish men into the Russian military. Rather than submit to the russification of their country, the Grand Duchy turned rebellious, and, in the wake of Russia’s revolutionary disturbances of 1905 and a revolt by the Finns, the autonomous duchy set up a democratic parliament in 1907 chosen by universal suffrage. The experiment was short-lived and the Russian imperial government restored its authority in Finland by the imposition of a military dictatorship.
During the chaotic period of the Russian Revolution which resulted in the end of tsarist rule, the Finns declared their independence on 6 December 1917. The euphoria of independence soon evaporated, however. Internal divisions between Finnish socialists and conservatives resulted in a bitter and bloody civil war between the two camps during the winter of 1918. The government forces, commonly known as the “White Guard,” were led by Marshal Carl Gustaf Mannerheim and emerged victorious in May 1918 with some aid from Germany. After the war, widespread persecution, imprisonment, and the execution of socialists who fought in the “Red Guard” tarnished the newly independent state and left long-lasting scars.
Nevertheless, the independence of Finland was secured and the new government set out to overcome the shortcomings of tsarist rule and the hatred caused by the recent civil war. A land-distribution program favoured by the socialists was introduced and successfully broke up the old landed estates; the debate about language was resolved with the recognition of both Finnish and Swedish; and a dispute with Sweden over control of the Åland Islands was settled by the League of Nations in Finland’s favour.
Finland was less successful in reaching agreements with its eastern neighbour, the Soviet Union, with whom relations broke down just after the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. On 30 November, the Soviet Union launched an attack on Finland which resulted in the so-called Winter War. Despite their heroic defence, the Finns were forced to capitulate and in March 1940 to cede several borderland territories, including Karelia along the western shore of Lake Ladoga, to the Soviet Union. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Finland allied with the Germans against their eastern enemy. The defeat of Germany at the war’s end confirmed the permanent loss of former Finnish territory to the Soviet Union. Over 400,000 refugees from Karelia were resettled in post-war Finland, with the result that the Karelian Isthmus between Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland, and its centre of Vyborg (Finnish: Viipuri), lost permanently its age-old Finnish character.
After the war Finland embarked upon a policy of friendly relations with the Soviet Union. A treaty signed in 1948 called for mutual assistance between the two countries, which included the payment of huge reparations by Finland to its wartime enemy. Although Finland joined the United Nations and the Nordic Council, by tacit agreement between the superpowers it was to remain unaligned to either the “democratic” West or the “Communist” East.
After World War II, neutral Finland experienced rapid urbanization and industrialization. Strong economic growth coupled with progressive social welfare legislation has afforded the Finns one of the best standards of living in the world. In 1995, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Finland joined the European Union.
Since 1860 over one million people have emigrated from Finland, most of them for economic reasons and virtually all of their own volition. Before World War II most emigrants went to North America (370,000), while the post-war emigration has been primarily to Sweden (502,000). Canada’s share of total emigration is about 90,000. In the first phase of Finnish emigration, Canadian destinations started to appear in the 1880s and were most popular between 1900 and 1930. After a seventeen-year freeze on immigration to Canada, the second phase resumed in 1947 and lasted till 1967, with smaller numbers coming since.
The first period of emigration coincided with a famine that revealed the shortage of arable land and its vulnerability to early frosts. People from the northern provinces of Lapland and Oulu departed first, for Sweden, Norway, and southern Finland, but in the 1860s North America became an alternative. Finland’s population tripled during the nineteenth century, and demand for food and farmland increased accordingly. By 1900 most marginal lands had been cultivated, the rural population (87.5 percent of the total) could no longer expand, and so surplus population migrated. Canada received two-thirds of its Finnish immigrants from the industrializing, formerly farming province of western coastal Pohjanmaa (Ostrobothnia). Turn-of-the-century russification curbed many of the privileges that Finns had enjoyed and led to strict censorship and conscription into the Russian army.
After the first emigrants from a Finnish village left, others soon followed, and some villages lost most of their young men. Females came next – sisters and friends of those who had left before. Most emigrants were single – healthy young men and women eager to work hard, spurred by recruitment brochures distributed by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and the Canadian government and enthusiastic letters or stories heard through the grapevine.
Emigration resumed after World War I. After the Civil War in 1918 many former Red Guard supporters found Finland hostile, and fifty of its leaders, including the former socialist prime minister, Oskari Tokoi, left for Canada. This country’s popularity as a destination greatly increased during the 1920s, especially after U.S. legislation curtailed Finnish immigration. In 1930 Canada, too, shut its doors.
The second high period of emigration began in 1947, again dominated by Ostrobothnians but now joined by eastern Finns, dispossessed by the war and the cession of Karelia to the Soviet Union. Post-war Finland experienced rapid urbanization, a shortage of housing, and scarcity of well-paid jobs. Many people went to Sweden, but others turned to North America, though increasing prosperity in Finland reduced its share to fewer than four thousand for the 1980s.
The Canadian census in 1901 reported 2,502 people of Finnish origin; contemporary records and observations place the number at between 4,000 and 5,000. Many emigrants passed through Canada, their stated destination, on their way to the United States; some followed canal or railway construction from the United States to Canada. Furthermore, “Finnish origin” in the Canadian census may indicate origin in Sweden, Norway, Russia, or even the United States.
About one-quarter of the earliest immigrants were women, and their presence was a prerequisite for actual settlement. By the 1880s there were signs of Finnish community life near the coal mines on Vancouver Island, as well as in Port Arthur, Fort William, and Copper Cliff, in Ontario. By the 1890s Finns began to settle also in Saskatchewan.
The pre-World War I Grand Duchy of Finland did not view emigration favourably. It did not wish to lose its young and healthy people, and nationalists, describing emigrants as traitors, claimed that all Finns were needed at home to boost language and culture and to help in the movement for separation from the Russian Empire. The Lutheran Church similarly took a harsh view of emigration. Moreover, in order to obtain an exit visa from Finland all emigrants had to be confirmed by the Lutheran Church. Those being confirmed had to be able to read religious material, and so virtually all Finnish emigrants to Canada during the nineteenth century were literate.
In the 1880s and 1890s the colonization departments of Canada and the CPR stepped up recruitment in Finland, and in 1899 the Canadian government sponsored five Finns to come to Canada and choose the most suitable land for a settlement. The delegation chose Red Deer, in the future province of Alberta, and planned to bring annually some four or five thousand settlers – Protestant, fair-haired, literate, and experienced in clearing virgin forests and cultivating rugged northern lands. Propaganda efforts failed, however, to redirect more than a small but steadily growing trickle of U.S.-bound Ostrobothnians to Alberta.
Statistics for the twentieth century are more reliable. Increased Finnish immigration reflected employment opportunities in resources and construction. Newly settled Finnish communities served as magnets for other Finns. Between 1900 and 1920 over 22,000 emigrated to Canada, and, from 1921 to 1930, over 36,000.
The second, post-World War II wave peaked during the 1950s, when 16,400 Finns landed. Changes in Canadian immigration policy in the 1960s and 1970s drastically reduced their numbers, as did Finland’s economic boom of the 1980s. Unskilled and less-educated emigrants no longer met requirements, and few Finns entered as assisted relatives. Today, immigrants are often professionals or highly skilled individuals working for Finnish or multinational companies.
During the 1970s and 1980s female immigrants began to outnumber men. Finland’s women are among the best educated in the world and many can qualify as independent immigrants. Others have arrived as foreign domestics to improve their language skills and to see Canada, but after their term of service many have applied for immigrant status. Yet others have come as spouses of Canadian citizens. Students registering in Canadian universities and colleges may remain in the country as spouses of citizens or be hired by international and domestic companies.
Where the pioneers settled over a century ago, one is likely to find a thriving Finnish community still today. The only significant internal migration was away from the prairies during the 1920s and 1930s and to British Columbia following World War II, especially since the 1980s. In 1931 Finns made up 0.42 percent of the Canadian population – their largest proportion ever.
Their impact in Canada has been regional, and their culture and communities have been most vibrant in northern and northwestern Ontario. Finns formed the largest non-British, non-French ethnic group in several small resource towns before 1939 and do so in Thunder Bay today. In 1929, 60 percent of Finns declared Ontario their intended destination, as compared to 26 percent of all immigrants; 4 percent of Finns intended to settle in the prairies, compared with 56 percent of all immigrants.
Ontario’s share of Canada’s Finns rose steadily from 55 percent in 1911 to 67 percent in 1961 and declined to 65 percent in 1991. Since 1961 British Columbia’s share has risen from 17 percent to 22 percent. The prairie provinces reached their peak in 1921, with a quarter of Finnish Canadians; today they have 10 percent, with more than half of that number in Alberta. Quebec attracted Finns during the late 1920s and 1930s, when hydro projects needed men, and Montreal, maids; its share reached 7 percent in 1931 and stands at 2 percent today. The north and the Atlantic provinces have had very few Finnish settlers.
Because of an ageing population and lack of substantial new immigration, the number of single-origin Finnish Canadians has declined steadily from the high of 59,336 in 1961 to 39,230 in 1991. Census statistics for 1991, which register multiple ethnic responses (59,865 individuals), indicate significant endogamy and suggest a much stronger community.
Finnish communities began as male-dominated, but now there are more women than men. The imbalance was greatest in Ontario and British Columbia in 1911, with 68 percent of Finns being male. In small resource towns men outnumbered women by ten to one. The prairies had a more balanced ratio, attracting more families. The balance began to shift after 1945, and by 1991 all Finnish areas had significantly more Finnish women – a consequence of the longevity of Finnish females as well as the greater number of female immigrants. The proportion of Finnish females in Canada rose from 35 percent in 1911 to 53 percent in 1991.
Other shifts include movement from rural areas to larger urban centres. In 1921, 67 percent of Finns were listed as rural; in 1991, half of single-response Finns lived in four urban areas – Toronto (6,000), Thunder Bay (5,805), Vancouver (4,455), and Sudbury (3,340). Considering both single- and multiple-response Finns, Thunder Bay (12,385) is slightly ahead of Toronto (12,350) in numbers, followed by Vancouver (10,735) and Sudbury (6,670). The Finns’ impact is greatest in Thunder Bay, where they form a significant proportion of the population.
The Finnish immigrants who came to Canada between 1880 and 1930 were mainly of the working class. Statistics from Finland on emigrants between 1893 and 1914 list 40 percent as landless agricultural workers, 20 percent as workers, 5 percent as farmers, and 24 percent as farmer’s children. Most male emigrants, whether farmers or landless peasants, were also experienced woodsmen. Most female, rural emigrants had been servants or textile workers. “Others,” at 11 percent, included artisans, especially tailors, and a few members of the middle class. Few immigrants brought capital or possessions with them. Nearly half (47 percent) of the women and 22 percent of the men in 1905 travelled on prepaid tickets. Thus many started in Canada burdened by debts.
Employment for Finns in Canada was dictated by their working-class status and their lack of English. Pre -1939 male immigrants worked in lumber camps, mines, and construction; fished on the British Columbia coast; farmed on the prairies; and carved homesteads out of northern Ontario’s forests. Women gravitated to the service industries in large cities.
The Canadian government sought immigrants to populate the west. Initially only a few Finns in the United States and Finland responded to offers of free land. In the late 1880s New Finland, in what was to become the province of Saskatchewan, was born, near the town of Wapella. It is still thriving, with most families owning several sections of good prairie land. Other, more northerly Finnish settlements were less fortunate. In the Coteau area by the Saskatchewan River a few Finns claimed homesteads on both sides of the river, by Outlook and Elbow. The communities spread west to Dunblane and Dinsmore, on some of the harshest and most barren prairie lands to be settled. Ottawa’s efforts to bring four thousand Finns to Alberta resulted in only a few hundred settlers near Red Deer.
The greatest period of growth was from 1901 to 1911, when four thousand Finnish immigrants could be found on the prairies. Discouraged by the hardships of farming, many gave up by the 1920s. Drought and the Depression further reduced the Finnish population in the region. The prospects described in the recruitment materials did not materialize for many Finns.
Ontario homesteaders’ experience was different. Their farms, located near resource towns, were often designed to provide only subsistence. If they were close to forests, harvesting of wood brought extra income; some farmers sold dairy products in nearby towns, and a few set up large dairy farms. In many cases women and children did the farming chores while men worked in the mines or lumber camps.
Most single Finns chose wage work in Canada. In the 1880s gangs of Finnish workers travelled from one construction site to another, building canals and railways – seasonal work that was often dangerous. Railway construction had lured Finns from the United States as early as 1876. After the formation of the CPR in 1881, recruitment in both the United States and Finland increased. Finns came to work on Canada’s transcontinental main line, built in the early 1880s. They specialized in drilling and dynamite, which was better paid. Work on the railway, however, was temporary and at best allowed men to save enough to settle.
New mines in Vancouver Island, northern Ontario, and later Alberta promised year-round employment. The coal mines of Extension, Ladysmith, and North Wellington on Vancouver Island were among the most dangerous in the world and reported over three thousand accidents between 1891 and 1919, of which 866 were fatal. Many of the injured and dead were Finnish. Finns were among the first to work Ontario’s hardrock mines, which opened in the Sudbury basin in the 1880s, and made up the majority of the first work gang in the Copper Cliff Nickel Company. Early on they laboured in the silver mines of Cobalt and the gold fields of Timmins–South Porcupine and Kirkland Lake. A significant gold discovery made by two Finnish miners in Timmins in 1909 became a rare success. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, Finns also worked in the mines of Alberta, especially in Blairmore and Belleview.
The immigrants established cooperative insurance plans in mutual-aid societies to ward off starvation during long-term illness or serious injury and to guarantee a decent burial. They formed the first one in Canada in 1891 as part of a temperance society on Vancouver Island.
Around mining areas grew permanent settlements. While miners’ wages were relatively high for unskilled work and improved considerably during and after World War II, uncertain work, frequent lay-offs, and unhealthy, life-threatening conditions discouraged other Finns. The Hollinger Mine disaster in Timmins, Ontario, in the winter of 1928 killed thirty-nine miners, eight of them Finns. The 1913–30 records of one funeral home in Sudbury indicate that 45 percent of Finnish men, or eighty-one men, died of unnatural causes; of these, seventy died in accidents.
An alternative to mining was work in the British Columbia and Ontario forests. Lumber workers put up with months of isolation and lived in crowded bunkhouses. Many left empty-handed after a season of hard work, while some saved enough funds to send some home to Finland or to invest in Canada. Finns worked in lumber camps north of Thunder Bay and Sault Ste Marie, especially along the Algoma Central Railway. Unlike the mines, the lumber industry offered opportunities for entrepreneurship. Soon lumber camps owned or operated by Finns sprang up across northern Ontario. Finnish camps had saunas and better sanitary conditions, and lumberjacks could argue out their grievances in their own language. Finnish women could garner good wages as cooks, bakers, and dishwashers. Some boasted of sizeable savings at the end of the season and often returned year after year.
The Finnish lumber-camp tradition continued among post-1945 immigrants. In the 1950s some owners recruited workers directly from Finland. Working and housing conditions improved, and during the 1950s light-weight, gasoline-powered chainsaws transformed the industry.
In Ontario, mining and lumbering still employ Finnish men and women. In the 1970s and 1980s companies from Finland opened Canadian operations. Firms such as Outokumpu, which manufactures mining equipment, and the Finn Pap paper company hire local Finnish Canadians. Others active here include Neste Oil; Montgomery-Kone, with its elevator magnets; Nokia, best known for cellular phones; and Valmet, which manufactures heavy equipment.
The post-war construction boom in Canada offered Finns opportunities for self-employment. Finnish carpenters started up construction firms, including both small, family operations and sizeable companies. For example, in Toronto, Finns have specialized in aluminum and vinyl-siding contracting.
Finnish-Canadian communities have long offered opportunities in other fields as well. Finns owned rooming-houses, restaurants, public saunas, grocery stores, taverns, and billiard rooms. Such establishments employed Finnish women, who cooked and scrubbed in the rooming-houses and served customers in the restaurants, taverns, and hotels. Finnish gift shops, bookstores, travel agents, bakeries, butcher shops, delicatessens, and restaurants still thrive in larger urban centres. Since most Finns now live in their own homes and have access to private saunas, the traditional public sauna has virtually disappeared.
Many Finnish-Canadian women have been active in the service industry. Figures from the 1930s indicate that two-thirds of those working outside their homes were maids. (A recent survey in a large Finnish cultural association revealed that half of first-generation females still classified themselves as cleaning women.) Before 1930 the most common form of service was that of the live-in domestic. Unlike southern and eastern European women, Finns preferred this alternative to factories. As independent, single immigrants, they had few relatives in Canada and could not expect their families back home to support them or even to supplement their income. Furthermore, the Finnish community did not limit women’s movement, and so they could work in isolated bush camps or with strange families.
Domestic service allowed them to learn English, adjust to a Canadian way of life, and work safely in good neighbourhoods. It left them, however, little free time, meant that they could not start a family, and made them dependent on the whims of the employer. Nevertheless, they found the wages, otherwise poor by Canadian standards, to be sufficient. They worked hard to gain a good, collective reputation as Finnish maids and formed organizations to help them find better families to work for. During the Depression, they were among the few Finns with steady employment. More arrived in 1939 through a special government scheme to bring Scandinavian domestics to upper-class homes in Montreal and Ottawa.
In the post-World War II era, especially after the easing of immigration regulations, Finnish women have been able to come to Canada as live-in child-care workers. Women in the service industry now specialize in day work – independent work for several employers, normally from four to six hours a day. While they gain considerable flexibility and wages of $200 to $300 a week, they receive no benefits or pensions.
Canadian statistics from 1986 show that, among European immigrants above the age of fifteen, Finns’ earnings are below average: $23,989 for men and $12,823 for women. Finns who had worked full time through 1985, however, earned roughly the same as Canadians of eastern or western European origin. Finnish men (at $33,246) earned significantly less than other northern Europeans ($43,390), and women ($21,934) slightly more than other northern Europeans ($20,030). Finns had about the same amount of education as other northern or western Europeans; 46 percent had not completed high school, while 9 percent were university graduates.
Ten percent of Finns had managerial or administrative positions, and 18 percent were professionals. Finnish men were still over-represented in construction, service, manufacturing, and other non-skilled and primary occupations. Some of this work is seasonal and limits earnings. These categories together employed 48 percent of men and 27 percent of women, most of them in services, and some in clerical or sales jobs.
Unlike some other ethnic communities, Finnish Canadians have few wealthy individuals or families. Perhaps the greatest success belongs to Peter Nygård, the clothing manufacturer and designer, who has manufacturing facilities in Winnipeg, a head office in Toronto, and outlets around the world. His design lines, such as Tan Jay, Bianca, and Signature, are popular among Canadian women. Nygård has demonstrated growing interest in his roots and hosted gala events at his spectacular head office in Toronto.
New immigrants from Finland, though highly skilled, are too few to affect the economic structure of the Finnish communities. In 1992, for example, forty-four Finns came to work in Canada, including ten in science or medicine, five in their own businesses, and nine in services and construction. Some newcomers have become well-known figures – for example, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Saku Koivu, a player in the National Hockey League.
For the past century over 80 percent of Finnish Canadians have identified themselves as Lutheran, and virtually all the rest have also been Protestants. Those who identify with the Lutheran Church are generally married and buried by a Finnish Lutheran pastor. Church buildings function as community centres for members and non-members alike. Most Lutheran churches have belonged to U.S.-based organizations – the Suomi (Finland) Synod, the National Finnish Lutheran Organization (Missouri Synod), or the non-Finnish United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA). In 1986 most of the Finnish Lutheran congregations became part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). Some have remained independent, however, and others have been more fundamentalist Apostolic Lutherans, also known as Laestadians. Pentecostals and the United Church of Canada also have dedicated Finnish followings. There are many Finns, however, who do not belong to any religious community.
The state church of Finland has had no Finnish equivalent in Canada and has seldom assisted emigrant churches. In 1903 Archbishop Johansson declared that Finland could not send trained pastors to North America until its own needs were first met. Moreover, the church condemned the “godless” Finnish Canadians. Thus Finnish Lutherans in Canada tried to reconstruct a demonination modelled after the homeland’s state church, but it had a mission and character of its own and unprecedented local independence. The struggling religious communities spent much of their time and effort collecting money in which women were afforded a special role, with their sewing circles and fundraising activities. Finns built and designed their own churches, gave their own sermons, and defined their own role in the community. To hold on to the second and later generations, churches have begun to offer sermons and activities in English.
Finnish Lutherans – coal miners and their families – set up the first congregation in Canada in Nanaimo, British Columbia, in 1893 and put up a church building in 1899. This congregation never had a pastor of its own and survived only until World War I. Saskatchewan’s New Finland Lutheran Church in Wapella, now St John’s Evangelical, began in 1893 and joined the Suomi Synod.
Before World War I, Finnish Lutherans launched five congregations in Ontario. In the beginning, all suffered from shortages of money and of Finnish-speaking pastors, internal divisions, and anti-religious pressures from outside. Copper Cliff’s church (founded 1897), Sault Ste Marie’s (1905), and Cobalt’s (1912) joined the Suomi Synod. Copper Cliff’s Wuoristo church, now St Timothy’s Finnish Evangelical Lutheran, and Sault Ste Marie’s Pyhä Maria, now St Mary’s Evangelical Lutheran, are still active, with 292 baptized members and 324, respectively. Cobalt’s church was short-lived. The congregations in Port Arthur and in Fort William, both founded in 1897, joined the National Lutheran Church in 1908. The National Lutherans founded small congregations, near Thunder Bay, in Gorham, Lappe, Leeper, Nolalu, and Nipigon, and also in Toronto (1926), Elma, Manitoba (1915), Dunblane, Saskatchewan (1914), and Manyberries, Alberta (1922). Those in Lappe and in Toronto are still active.
The Finnish Seamen’s Mission in Montreal, now St Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, founded in 1926, received funding and a pastor from Finland. The Finnish consul, Akseli Rauanheimo, obtained funds for it from Finland’s Seamen’s Mission, but the generosity did not last long. The congregation eventually joined the United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA), which provided financial assistance. In 1986 the congregation joined the ELCIC and in 1997 reported 119 members.
Records for 1931 reflect early difficulties: only 3 percent of Canada’s Finnish Lutherans had actually joined a church of that faith. Religious freedom and lack of a strong central organization had splintered the Lutheran Church. In 1928 a professional organizer, the Reverend John F. Saarinen, set out to transfer Canadian congregations from the financially troubled Suomi Synod to the non-Finnish ULCA, and an agreement was ratified in 1931. After three years of vigorous work, Saarinen reported that the ULCA’s Finnish congregations had 1,259 baptized members, up from a low of 354 in 1930. Between 1931 and 1935 nine Finnish Lutheran congregations joined the ULCA – from Montreal; Kirkland Lake, Sudbury, Timmins–South Porcupine, Toronto, and Windsor, in Ontario; Sylvan Lake and Manyberries, in Alberta; and Vancouver.
After World War II, the ULCA revived its efforts in Port Arthur, which already had three Finnish Lutheran churches. Today the Finns of Thunder Bay have five congregations: Bethel Finnish Lutheran, Finnish Evangelical Lutheran, Hilldale Lutheran (formerly Finnish Independent), Saalem Finnish Pentecostal, and St John’s Finnish Lutheran.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada Yearbook (1998) reports that in 1997 Finnish Lutheran congregations were growing and thriving in Canada. The largest and most active, Agricola, in Toronto, has 2,229 members, followed by St Matthew’s, in Sudbury, with 991. Other Evangelical Lutheran congregations in Ontario are smaller. Emmaus in Vancouver has 692 members. In 1997 the Finnish National Lutheran and ELCIC churches in Canada had a total of about 5,000 members. They represent only 5 percent of all Finns in Canada, and 11.5 percent of those of single origin. Their newspaper is Isien Usko (Faith of Our Fathers; Sault Ste Marie, 1938– ).
A number of Finns are members of the Apostolic Lutheran Church and are commonly referred to as Laestadians. Laestadianism was especially popular in northern Finland and Ostrobothnia, the home of many immigrants. In Canada they have congregations on the prairies and in larger urban centres. After years of stagnation, they reorganized, adopted bilingual services, and reported considerable growth in the 1980s. They promote a simple life and large families, and children make up a sizeable portion of their members. For example, the congregation in Richmond Hill has 170 members, of whom over one hundred are children. The Laestadians cooperate with fellow congregations elsewhere in North America and in Finland and Sweden, and young people of both continents get together in language and Bible camps.
The increasing number of foreigners arriving in Canada after 1900 from non–Anglo-Saxon countries created concern among Canadians who favoured assimilation. Public education was seen as the greatest agent of Canadianization, and mainline Canadian Protestant churches also acted to this end. The Presbyterian Church, and the United Church after its formation in 1925, offered Finnish-speaking pastors and financial support. Canadian congregations respected Finnish cultural values yet helped acculturate Finns by offering them English lessons. Port Arthur–Fort William got financial assistance from the Presbyterians early, in 1898, and Finnish Presbyterian congregations were founded in Toronto and in Copper Cliff.
The Toronto church began as Congregationalist in 1906 and became Presbyterian in 1907, and the Presbyterians proselytized among youths and women. In 1925 it merged with the United Church of Canada, and in 1927 it moved into the new Church of All Nations, known among the Finns as Queenin kirkko. The United Church’s Department of Strangers focused its efforts on Finnish women. One year the Women’s Missionary Society gave English night-school classes to over 400 Finnish women and afternoon classes to 113 Finnish girls. The Toronto church soon became a meeting place and second home to live-in domestics, but it began to lose members when new Lutheran churches were founded. Now Yhdistynyt kirkko (Finnish United Church), it has fewer than a hundred, ageing members.
Copper Cliff’s Finnish Presbyterian congregation was founded in 1913 by the Reverend Arvi I. Heinonen, who set up the Suomalainen Kansan-opisto (Finnish People’s Institute), which offered cultural and practical courses as well as religious instruction. Heinonen also fought against Finnish socialism and communism. On his departure in 1919 the congregation declined rapidly. In 1926 the Reverend Thomas D. Jones, another anti-Communist crusader, launched the Sudbury Finnish United Church. In the 1930s Finns founded a Lutheran church in the city, and by the 1940s most Finnish Presbyterians and United Church members had returned to the Lutheran Church.
The Presbyterians sent travelling pastors to smaller Finnish communities on the prairies and formed small, usually very short-lived, congregations in the Eckville-Manyberries region. The Baptists started small Finnish congregations in Toronto and Thunder Bay.
The first Pentecostal Assembly in Finland was founded in Helsinki in 1915. During the 1920s several Pentecostal preachers visited Canada from Finland and the United States and began to convert immigrants. Early preachers relied on the Finnish Pentecostal bulletin Totuuden todistaja (Witness of Truth; New York, Vancouver, 1925– ), first as a monthly magazine and since 1985 in newspaper format. It has a circulation of about two thousand. The Pentecostals have emphasized missionary work and music.
Canada’s first Finnish Pentecostal Assembly was founded in 1930. The Toronto Saalem congregation has 280 members and an assembly hall that can hold 650 people. The Port Arthur Finnish Saalem congregation, founded in 1933, has 210 members, who meet in a building constructed in 1984. Saalem’s missionary work produced smaller prayer groups in Nipigon, The Pas, and Winnipeg. Other congregations exist in Vancouver, Calgary, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, South Porcupine, and Windsor. A small Pentecostal Assembly functioned in Montreal from 1933 but has since lost most of its membership. The nearly one thousand Finnish Pentecostals in Canada belong to the Pentecostal Assemblies in Canada. They broadcast radio programs from their own studios, occasionally produce TV shows, and support several missionaries in Canada and abroad.
Finnish Canadians have not had a strong presence in parliamentary politics, but some have been active in the labour movement or vociferous opponents of it. Finnish communities have failed to form strong voting blocs, and internal divisions and difficulties with English have reduced their strength. Particularly before World War II, however, many Finns were strong supporters of Canada’s labour movement, and this activism also gave birth to a small, but vigorous, nationalist, right-wing movement in the 1930s.
Among immigrants who arrived between 1880 and 1930, many had adopted socialist teachings in their homeland. They were active supporters of trade unions and cooperatives, and some were socialist leaders, journalists, and intellectuals. Canadian working conditions and their own economic vulnerability led many Finns to socialism. Soon many Finnish temperance associations became socialist cultural and political centres.
The Finnish-Canadian socialist movement represented varying degrees of radicalism. There was a utopian socialist experiment – Sointula – on Malcolm Island, just north of Vancouver Island, started in 1901. Its founder, Matti Kurikka, embraced a mixture of theosophical and socialist ideas. In 1901 he launched Canada’s first Finnish-language newspaper Aika (Time; Malcolm Islands, 1901–04). In 1905 the utopian experiment succumbed to financial difficulties. Those who remained on the island divided the land, where their descendants still live. Those who left founded another utopian community, Sammon Takojat, near Websters Corners, but it too was short-lived. Another group left Sointula to found a community in Gibson’s Landing and promptly set up a socialist hall. J.S. Woodsworth, sent into the community as a Methodist minister, called it a major influence on his embrace of the cooperative and socialist vision.
Finnish-Canadian socialists cooperated with other nationalities, especially the Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association. Finnish socialists in British Columbia helped set up the Western Federation of Miners and promoted union activity among all west-coast fishermen. The Finnish Society of Toronto, founded by the city’s tailors in 1902, established a network for the many Finnish socialist clubs across Canada, seeking to move beyond ethnic boundaries. In 1906 the entire membership joined the Socialist Party of Canada (SPC). In 1907 several Finnish tailors ran for school boards, and James Lindala, the first Finn to settle in Toronto, in 1887, became the first socialist candidate for mayor. The same year, Toronto’s Finnish socialists hired a gifted female activist, Sanna Kannasto (Kallio), as an agitator among Finns in Canada. She criss-crossed the country to lay the groundwork for a national Finnish socialist organization; one community had a socialist newspaper, Työkansa (Working People; Port Arthur, 1907–15). Finnish Canadians also read U.S. socialist newspapers and engaged travelling Finnish-American agitators, organizers, and performers.
In January 1910 the 146 Toronto Finns were ousted from the SPC, accused of clannishness and excessively liberal interpretation of Marxist ideology. In May 1911 Finns offered their brand of socialism to the Canadian Socialist Federation, and in December they made up the majority of the membership of the Social Democratic Party of Canada (SDP).
The organizational efforts of Sanna Kannasto, contacts provided by the newspaper Työkansa, and increased membership led to the founding in October 1911 of a nationwide Finnish Socialist Organization of Canada (FSOC), later the Finnish Organization of Canada (FOC). In 1911 the FSOC had nineteen locals with 1,502 members; a year later it had forty locals and 2,218 members, and when World War I broke out there were sixty-four locals with 3,062 members. All of these also joined the SDP, making Finns the largest ethnic group in the party. Over five hundred Finnish women joined as well.
In 1918, in the midst of the “Red Scare,” the government of Canada declared foreign-language groups of the Social Democratic Party illegal. Undeterred by adversity and the bankruptcy of their organ Työkansa, the Finnish socialists founded Vapaus (Liberty; Sudbury, Ont., 1917–74). The paper was twice banned but soon recovered, and during the 1930s its circulation reached five thousand. After World War I the FSOC flirted briefly with the One Big Union and then gave its support to the new Workers Party of Canada, later the Communist Party of Canada (CPC). For several years during the 1920s all the members of the FOC also belonged to the CPC. Some Finns, especially those working in the lumber camps in northwestern Ontario, decided to join the Industrial Workers of the World, which was unionizing the camps.
The political division within the Finnish communities erupted into open strife after the Finnish Civil War. Some Finns – many of them former members of Finland’s White Guard – founded nationalist organizations in Canada: Turisti in Port Arthur (1926), the Montreal Suomi Society (1927), the Vancouver Valistus-ja Edistysseura Suomi (1928), and the Finnish National Societies in Kirkland Lake, Sudbury, and Toronto, founded between 1930 and 1932. They set up the Central Organization of the Loyal Finns in Canada (COLFC) in 1931 to change Finns’ political image in the country, increase employment opportunities, and destroy communism in Canada.
The influence of Finnish socialists was so strong that during the 1920s and 1930s non-socialist Finns found it difficult to find employment in organized bush camps. The COLFC gave the RCMP and Canadian employers lists of left-wing Finns, and some Loyal Finns used their membership cards in an attempt to get jobs. Many Finnish Lutheran and United Church of Canada pastors helped found the societies, and the COLFC enjoyed the respect and support of the Finnish consuls in Canada. It published a few issues of the newspapers Isänmaan ääni (Voice of the Fatherland; Kirkland Lake, Ont., 1939–?) and Kanadan suomalainen (Finnish Canadian; Montreal, 1939), but its principal organ, Canadan Uutiset (Canadian News; Port Arthur, Thunder Bay, 1915– ), served non-leftist Finnish Canadians.
The role of Finnish Canadians in the labour movement was extraordinary. The minutes of the Lumberworkers Industrial Union of Canada were written in Finnish for the first ten years. Finns also tried to organize mine workers. They supported and participated in strikes, organized some of the largest demonstrations ever seen in northern Ontario, and published a wide range of unionist literature. Many of the demonstrations were precipitated by mining disasters, and one in Port Arthur in 1929 protested the untimely death of two Finns – lumber workers, union organizers, and labour martyrs Viljo Roswall and John Voutilainen. Many mines and some lumber camps blacklisted Finnish workers, and, during the Depression, finding a job was especially difficult for left-wing Finns.
Women were a vital part of socialist activity. During the 1920s at least twenty-seven Finnish women’s groups had affiliated with the Communist-led Canadian Federation of the Women’s Labour League (WLL). Radical women subscribed to the Finnish-American newspaper Toveritar (Female Comrade; 1911–30), which, at the time it was banned by Ottawa in 1929, had over three thousand subscribers in Canada.
The early 1930s witnessed a further break-up of the Finnish-Canadian left as social democrats left the Finnish Organization of Canada. Their departure divided the Finnish consumers’ cooperatives and caused bitter fights over ownership of property. In 1931 social-democratic journalists Reinhold Pehkonen and Bruno Tenhunen founded yet another Finnish-language newspaper, Vapaa Sana (Free Word; Sudbury, Ont., 1931– ). In 1933 the paper threw its support behind the new Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). Vapaa Sana moved to Toronto in 1934, and by the end of the decade it had proclaimed itself an independent paper with 3,450 subscribers.
Dissension and unemployment drove many socialist Finns to look towards the Soviet Union for work and a more equitable society. Some Finnish Canadians moved to Soviet-ruled Karelia during the 1920s to establish cooperative communities, and in the 1930s three or four thousand more, many with young children, joined them. Approximately a third soon returned to Finland or to Canada. Of those who remained in the Soviet Union, a majority of the men and older boys were shot or starved to death during the Stalinist purges after 1936. Their families were left in precarious condition and spent World War II in exile in Siberia. The exodus to Soviet Karelia also drained Finnish-Canadian communities of their most able political organizers and supporters.
About one hundred Finnish socialists joined the International Brigade in 1936 and fought against Franco’s forces. They enlisted in Canada’s Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion and suffered intolerable conditions, heavy casualties, even imprisonment. Finnish survivors have since then been in the forefront of Canadians seeking recognition of the contribution made by veterans of the Spanish Civil War to the fight against fascism.
When Russia attacked Finland in 1939, launching the Winter War and winning Canadian sympathy for the homeland, Finland aid societies quickly emerged, with Loyal Finns taking a leadership role. Active, too, were the consuls and the Suomen Vapaussodan Rintamamiehet Montrealissa (Finnish War Veterans in Montreal), founded in 1935, which was soon to be known as the Suomen Aseveljet Kanadassa (Finnish War Veterans in Canada). Kingsley Graham, honorary consul of Finland in Toronto, included several prominent Canadians in the project, which raised funds to buy war supplies and recruited over two thousand volunteers. At least 212 men and a few women had left for Finland to be part of the Finnish American Legion by the time peace was declared in March 1940. An additional five hundred men were trained in the basement of Toronto’s Union Station.
Indicative of Canadian sympathy, Premier Mitchell F. Hepburn offered homes in Ontario’s northern clay belt to a half-million Finns from eastern territories that were annexed by the Soviet Union. But on 7 December 1941, after Finland had begun military cooperation with Germany, Ottawa classified Finns as enemy aliens. All aid to Finland ceased, consulates were closed, and Finnish citizens – even Canadian wives of Finns – had to be registered and fingerprinted. About fifty Finnish seamen were interned, and Finnish citizens were forbidden to enter certain militarily sensitive areas. Nationalistic Finns could only watch as socialists worked for the Fund to Aid Russia.
While left-wing Finns enthusiastically supported the struggle against fascism after Hitler attacked Russia, all Finns embraced the war effort in Canada by buying war bonds, working in war industries, and helping the Red Cross. Many also served in the armed forces. After the war, honorary consul Kingsley Graham tried to bridge the gulf within the Finnish-Canadian communities. Both sides cooperated in the Canada Finland Aid Society Fund, which was established in 1946 and raised $60,000 within a year. When postal restrictions were lifted in November 1945, Finnish Canadians sent over 100,000 packages to friends and relatives in the homeland. All Finns, regardless of ideology, could identify with the plight of post-war Finland. Finns finally ceased to be enemy aliens in 1947, when all restrictions against them were removed.
After the Finnish Organization of Canada (FOC) was declared illegal in Canada in 1940, its membership went underground, its properties were confiscated, and its newspaper, Vapaus, was forced to shut down. Former members hastily organized a Finnish Canadian Democratic League, but it had only limited success. The ban on the FOC was lifted in 1943: Canada had in 1941 become an ally of the Soviet Union, whose war efforts the FOC heartily supported. The organization could now throw its weight behind wartime union activity.
Although by 1996 the FOC’s membership had dwindled to about two hundred – most of them senior citizens in Toronto, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and Vancouver – its legacy has been carried on by second-generation leaders in unions. Perhaps the best example is Paul Siren, who grew up in a small rural community as a member of a radical Finnish youth organization. During the war he was international representative of the United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) – a position he held along with being director of the UAW for the Toronto area until 1960. In 1965 he was appointed general secretary of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), and he chaired the English-speaking group of the federation from 1973 to 1985. For his union activities, Siren received the Order of Canada.
Social consciousness acquired as young pioneers has inspired some second-generation Finnish Canadians to become vocal social critics. They can be found as volunteers in food banks, as fund-raisers for abused women’s shelters, as environmental- and animal-rights activists, and as participants in the peace movement.
Tension within Finnish-Canadian communities have lost their intensity in recent years. Friendly cooperation, facilitated by a genuine increase in tolerance, is now the norm. Socialists are no longer a political force, and nationalists proposed dissolution of the COLFC in 1993. Finns now promote mutual help and organize non-political social and cultural groups.
Finnish-Canadian cultural activities reflect the values and ideals of the homeland, yet immigrants have also absorbed Canadian influences. Since the turn of the century almost all Finns have been literate. In Canada they established numerous newspapers and encouraged writers. Organized cultural activity included theatrical groups, choirs, bands, folk dancing, sports competitions, and festivals. Until World War II the leftist organizations generated the most vigorous cultural activity, but after 1945 the centre of gravity shifted to nationalist societies and independent social clubs.
Finnish-Canadian cultural activities reflect Finnish values. Old folk traditions, playing of the kantele, singing of runes, and remnants of the nature religion survived longest in eastern Finland, especially Karelia and parts of Lapland. During the period of national romanticism artists reclaimed the folk traditions as national symbols in music, art, theatre, and literature.
In the immigrant community all organizations, whether political or religious, inevitably grew into cultural centres. During the 1930s there were more than eighty Finnish haali (halls) across Canada. Sixty belonged to the Finnish Organization of Canada, including the first socialist hall, Aallotar, built in 1892 by Finnish coal miners on Vancouver Island. Most halls were rough-hewn log cabins built by volunteers, but a few were imposing, multi-storey cultural centres. One of the first priorities was construction of a stage, and larger halls would house reading rooms and libraries, gymnasiums, meeting rooms, dance floors, and saunas. An early structure was built in 1903 by a Copper Cliff youth organization; “one of the finest opera halls in New Ontario,” it burned down in 1907. Most halls have been destroyed or converted to other uses. Thunder Bay’s Big Hall, however, built in 1909–10, has been declared a historical landmark.
The golden age of Finnish immigrant theatre occurred in the 1920s and 1930s – an era of cultural renaissance. Larger communities had weekly productions, ranging from short one-act plays to elaborate four-act musicals. Enthusiasm for theatre and the shortage of Finnish-language drama encouraged the emergence of playwrights, and Canadian archives contain more than two hundred plays by such writers as Alfred Hautamäki, Jack Koski, Paul Laakso, Aku Päiviö, Magnus Raeus, and John Wirta.
Other published immigrant authors included Kalle Rissanen and Annie Ruissalo. English-language works by immigrants’ descendants sometimes depict early experiences – most notably, Nancy Mattson’s Maria Breaks Her Silence (1989), a volume of poetry inspired by the life of the first woman to settle in New Finland, Saskatchewan.
Between 1921 and 1965, the socialist newspaper Vapaus carried ads for 2,717 full-length plays, 933 short plays, and 1,200 other performances, including variety shows. In order to meet demand, the FOC established a national play-rental service in 1927. During the Depression it owned 252 plays, and in 1935, for example, it rented out plays on nearly five hundred occasions. Theatre also brought income to cultural organizations. Despite the subsequent popularity of movies and television, Finnish theatre groups still operate in Vancouver, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, Timmins, and Toronto. Modern cultural centres, often housed in Finnish homes for seniors, invariably have a stage, and no Finnish-Canadian festival is complete without a theatrical performance.
Brass bands and choirs are integral to Finnish cultural life in Canada. The first recorded Finnish-Canadian brass band was founded on Vancouver Island before 1892 and was soon followed by others in most communities. Brass bands performed at funerals, in May Day parades, and to escort athletes, gymnasts, and other participants at cultural festivals. Many also contributed to political demonstrations, strikes, and marches of the unemployed. Today the tradition survives, mainly in the Pentecostal Church. Some communities import brass bands from Finland to head the march during annual Finnish Grand Festivals. In addition, smaller bands, especially with accordions, are popular at regular community dances.
Traditionally, singing was the vehicle for transmitting Finnish culture and mythology. It has been said that Finns sing everywhere – in lumber camps, in saunas, and at home. Every gathering has a song or two. Hymns, folk songs, and labour and patriotic tunes are an important part of Finns’ choral tradition.
Before World War I several Finnish choirs performed across Canada; since World War II male choirs have been most popular and sing together in special Male Choir Days. The combined Finnish Male Choruses of North America stage impressive concerts in North America and Finland. Larger Finnish congregations have at least one mixed and often a children’s choir. Some choirs have grown into independent cultural societies, which organize tours and have an auxiliary group to raise funds, and some also host and sponsor choirs from Finland. The 1990s have seen the establishment of two ambitious choirs – Vox Finlandiae in Toronto and Octovox in Sudbury. They reach out to Canadian audiences and share their musical tradition in mainstream cultural gatherings.
When Finland was struggling for nationhood, Finnish athletes, especially long-distance runners, gymnasts, wrestlers, and cross-country skiers, distinguished themselves in Olympic competitions. Sports became an integral part of Finnish culture, and successful amateur athletes the nation’s heroes. As well, athletics promoted sisu (tenacity and hardiness).
Canada’s Finnish communities established sports organizations and athletic competitions, beginning about 1900 in temperance societies and socialist groups. In 1906 Finnish sports clubs were founded in Port Arthur, Copper Cliff, and Toronto. Many communities where Finns lived lacked sports facilities altogether; typically Finns would purchase a field close to their hall and transform it into a running track. The hall would offer space for a gymnasium, where both male and female gymnasts could practise. Fund-raising events, such as picnics, dances, and plays, helped pay for equipment. Finnish sports groups, with their organization, sports facilities, and experienced trainers, often assisted other Canadians and opened their competitions to the whole community.
In 1925 various sports clubs organized the Finnish-Canadian Amateur Sports Federation (FCASF). In 1950 this body had eighty-four local clubs with over two thousand members. Its activities included competitions in track and field, skiing, wrestling, and gymnastics. From its ranks rose many athletes to represent Canada on national teams and in the Olympics, most successfully in wrestling, boxing, track and field, biathlon, and cross-country skiing.
Many post-war immigrants felt uncomfortable in the leftist-oriented FCASF and formed their own sport clubs and held national competitions. For example, the Sampo Athletic Club, founded in 1951 in Sudbury, conducted the North American Championship Ski Races in 1958. Sisu Finnish Athletic Club, founded in 1949 in Toronto, runs an annual cross-country skiing competition in Udora, Ontario. Its members represent Canada in orienteering, biathlon, and cross-country skiing. Women gymnasts have also performed in many national celebrations, and folk dancers have participated in multicultural festivals. The best-known Finnish folk-dancing group is Thunder Bay’s Kiikurit.
Fishing, hunting, and sharp-shooting are also popular with Finns in Canada. Anglers’, hunters’, and gun clubs have purchased land and recreational areas outside urban centres and built recreational lodges and wilderness cabins. They stage fishing competitions and hunting excursions. Active clubs exist or have existed in Vancouver, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste Marie, Timmins, Sudbury, and Toronto. Many members of gun clubs have competed in national championships in American trap, match rifle, pistols, sporting clay, and sport rifle – perhaps none as successfully as Antero Takkala, who won several medals in the 1994 Canadian national pistol competition. Anglers’ and hunters’ clubs are devoted to the protection of the environment and the preservation of public game domains.
The most popular team sports are pesäpallo (modified baseball), soccer, and hockey. Many National Hockey League (NHL) players have their roots in northern Ontario’s Finnish communities. Now the NHL recruits players directly from Finland. Finnish-Canadian sports clubs have also formed golf clubs and bowling teams.
Cultural and athletic groups perform during Finnish and Canadian holidays. Finnish communities celebrate the festivals of the Christian calendar and, especially, 6 December, Finland’s Independence Day, usually with the Finnish War Veterans in Canada playing a central role. Other celebrations include Juhannus (midsummer) and Vappu (May Day). Finns honour their national epic, Kalevala, on 28 February and their national poet, Runeberg, on 5 February – a special day for Finland’s Swedish minority, of which he was a member (there is even an Order of Runeberg in Vancouver). A relatively new holiday is the irreverent, fun-filled St Urho’s day, invented in 1956 by Minnesota Finns to parody St Patrick’s day. In Thunder Bay the whole Finnish community celebrates the occasion, and even the mayor is known to march in the parade. Toronto had its first St Urho’s day, organized by University of Toronto’s Finnish Club, in 1994.
Vigorous cultural and sporting activity led to annual song and sports festivals. The left established summer festivals and invited choirs, theatrical groups, bands, and athletes from across Canada. In 1956 the FOC and the FCASF formed a committee to organize the annual Laulujuhlat (Song Festival), which, during the 1950s, attracted up to three thousand participants. Today numbers have declined to a few hundred.
Other Finns started their own annual, three-day Suurjuhlat (Grand Festival). The first, to raise funds for Finland Aid, took place in Sudbury in 1940; since 1945 the event has rotated among Finnish-Canadian communities, attracting between one thousand and three thousand participants. In the opening march, all the participating groups carry their banners to the beat of a brass band. In 1971 the organizations set up the umbrella body Finnish Canadian Cultural Federation (FCCF), which lobbies on behalf of its members before government departments in Finland and Canada and offers guidance and assistance in preserving cultural heritage.
Finns began in Canada with hand-written newspapers – the fist-press – available at Finnish halls and sometimes circulated among households. The oldest surviving examples, dated 1894, are from North Wellington on Vancouver Island. Most Finnish papers were political organs and reached a large segment of the population. Two weekly, non-aligned newspapers still survive: Canadan uutiset and Vapaa sana. They have combined circulation of about five thousand and in the mid1990s started English-language sections. A 1996 survey by Vapaa sana found readers interested in news from Finland and the Finnish immigrant community and its people.
The Vapaus Publishing Company started the Finnish-Canadian literary weekly Liekki (The Flame; Sudbury, 1935–74). It provided an avenue of literary expression and a forum for public discussion. Its longtime editor, Aku Päiviö, was an accomplished working-class novelist and poet. Liekki merged with Vapaus as Viikko sanomat (Toronto, 1974–80s), which became Vapaus (Liberty; Toronto, 1980s–91). Since 1991 readers have been able to obtain a bilingual monthly, Kaiku – Echo (Toronto, 1991– ), whose circulation was over 700 in 1996.
Finns’ family and kinship patterns have remained constant in Canada. With some regional variations, families were seldom extended and characteristically were small. Most early immigrants were single – estimates vary from 60 to 83 percent for both genders. While men outnumbered women until the 1960s, the imbalance was not as severe as among many other immigrant groups. In 1921 females already made up 44 percent of Canadian Finns, and in 1971, 50 percent. Since then women have consistently outnumbered men, and in 1991 they made up 53 percent of Finnish Canadians.
Compared to other Nordic peoples, the early Finns in Canada were quite endogamous. In 1921, 91 percent of men and 83 percent of women had chosen a spouse of the same nationality (the figures for Swedes were 55 percent for both sexes). Difficulty in learning English kept many Finns insular, and only 3 percent reported English as their mother tongue in 1921. Families were havens for Finnish culture, yet until the 1930s there were very few senior citizens. Most women worked, and many thus delayed getting married and then had few children. For ideological reasons, some Finns lived in common-law unions, further influencing marriage and family statistics. Finns had some of the smallest families in Canada.
The post-war period continued the tradition of small families, but exogamy increased. The second generation has no linguistic barriers to choice of partners, and the community does not discourage exogamy. As a result, in 1986, of the 91,340 Finns in Canada, 50,770 had been born to mixed marriages.
Within families women enjoy relative equality, and daughters the same educational opportunities as sons. In 1986, for example, more Finnish-Canadian women than men had attended university; however, 74 percent of married men were employed, compared with 50 percent of married women. Children are encouraged to be independent and, when able, to work outside the home. They are not generally expected to contribute financially, but great emphasis is placed on frugality and saving.
Family customs differ little from those of Canadians of other northern or western European origins, though families are intensely private. An invitation to visit a Finnish home is a sign of true friendship, and custom dictates that the invitation be reciprocated. Finns rarely visit each others’ homes without being invited. Almost all Finnish homes have a sauna, and families that do not own one are likely to be invited by friends to use theirs. Historically, Finnish communities had public saunas, but today the tradition lives on mainly in the home or at the cottage, where it often includes swimming, jumping into an ice hole, or rolling in the snow. The weekly sauna includes post-sauna relaxation with family and friends.
Finnish homes in Canada display cultural symbols such as home-made handicrafts, rugs and ryijys (ryarugs), wood carvings, and, more recently, textiles, glass, and ceramics. Many women have a traditional folk costume, which is expensive. Reading is popular, and many homes have extensive libraries.
Finnish Canadians eat simple but nutritious meals. Their favourite foods include Karelian pies; mojakka (fish soup); carrot, turnip, and liver casseroles; and rosolli (beetroot and herring salad). At Christmas they import lipeäkala (ludefisk/fish soaked in lye). They eat plenty of hard tack, rye bread, and, for special breakfasts, lettuja (thin pancakes) with their favourite cloudberry and lingonberry jams. Finns in Finland and Canada are among the world’s heaviest coffee drinkers, and with coffee they often have traditional pulla (sweet bread) and gingerbread cookies.
The community is ageing rapidly. Of single-origin Finns 54 percent in 1991 had turned forty-five. The feminization and ageing of the community create an abundance of older, single women. As a rule, Finnish seniors live not with their families but in their own homes or in senior citizens’ centres. One-third of Finns live outside any family environment. In 1986, 31 percent of Finns (excluding children) were single.
Finns have begun to build seniors’ centres across Canada, typically with the word koti (home) in their names. Each such centre has required commitment and voluntary labour of Finns who raised funds and battled bureaucracy. About six thousand people have been involved in creating these homes, which house about one thousand residents. The goal has been private, comfortable, safe, and friendly surroundings that reflect Finnish culture and use the Finnish language. Most homes have been designed by Finnish-Canadian architects and are set near lakes and/or in forests. The centres have grown into modern-day halls, with facilities for meetings and cultural events and, of course, saunas.
The first was founded in Vancouver in 1959 and accepted occupants in 1963. Vancouver homes, in two locations, house 270 people. Building in Ontario began in the 1970s, and today one can find beautiful, modern centres in Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Timmins (South Porcupine), and Toronto. The last named, near public transit, has a 250-seat auditorium, an extensive library, excellent recreational facilities, a medical centre, a pharmacy, and a café-delicatessen; it has become the focus of the Finnish community of Toronto. In 1993 the Finnish Association for Seniors in Canada was established to allow for easier communication between the centres.
The ageing community is in transition. The Finnish language is rapidly being replaced by English, and exogamy is transforming a formerly homogeneous community. In response the community is intensifying language instruction and at the same time shifting to English in its cultural institutions. Group maintenance has also been enhanced by close links to Finland.
In the 1991 Canada census 24,905 Finns reported Finnish as their mother tongue; one-third of them were born outside Finland. In addition, many second-generation Finns have some proficiency in Finnish, obtained at home or through language schools. Before World War II churches and other organizations held regular Finnish classes, and Finnish-language summer camps have always been popular. Usually, language instruction was combined with information on Finnish culture or indoctrination of parents’ ideology. Language classes in churches took the form of religious instruction in Sunday schools. Loyal Finns incorporated Finnish nationalism into their curriculum, while many language schools run by the Finnish Organization of Canada used socialist textbooks. Instruction generally, however, was sporadic, and teachers were usually untrained volunteers.
The post-war period saw more professional and institutionalized instruction. In 1984 the Finnish Language Teachers Association of Canada (FLTAC) was founded in Ottawa, and it organizes annual training seminars for teachers. Instruction grew from twenty teachers in seven schools in 1982 to about fifty teachers in twelve schools in 1996, with about 600 pupils. Two-thirds of the students report a language other than Finnish as their mother tongue. The Toronto Finnish Language School has annually sponsored a summer language camp with 50 to 100 pupils. Finnish is usually taught as part of Ontario’s International Languages Elementary and Continuing Education Program. Credit courses are offered in Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and Toronto. In addition it is possible to study Finnish in language schools in Edmonton, Hearst, Montreal, Ottawa, South Porcupine, Vancouver, and Victoria.
Several universities now offer Finnish studies. In the 1970s Lakehead University in Thunder Bay began to offer Finnish-language courses. The Canadian Suomi Foundation, with community support, is raising funds to establish a permanent rotating chair (professorship) of Finnish culture. Since its founding in Thunder Bay in 1977 it has given out annual scholarships.
In 1989 the University of Toronto began accepting students in Finnish studies; the first professor is Börje Vähämäki. The program’s ten courses include one on the Finnish immigrant experience in Canada, and Finnish can be a minor or a major subject. The program attracts fifty to sixty students annually, and since 1997 it has published the Journal of Finnish Studies (Toronto, 1997– ). It is raising funds with the help of the Canadian Friends of Finland Education Foundation (CFFEF) to establish a permanent university chair. The Finno-Ugric Studies Association of Canada holds biannual meetings of scholars in connection with the Learned Societies of Canada and publishes its proceedings.
Except during the war years, correspondence has helped maintain personal and family ties with Finland. Most immigrant letters contained common subjects – working conditions, standard of living, family news, homesickness, information on parcels mailed to Finland – and many included photographs. After World War II telephone contact became frequent, as has e-mail in the 1990s.
Early travel to Finland was expensive and time-consuming, and few immigrants went home except because of family illness or death, and they might stay for months, sometimes years. During the 1920s the Swedish American Line began to plan group excursions to Finland. Several hundred Finnish Canadians were planning to depart for the Helsinki Olympics of 1940, which had to be cancelled because of the war. Post-war immigrants have travelled to Finland mainly by air. Finnish groups and travel agents began to organize charter flights, and in 1989 Finnair began direct flights to Canada.
The government of Finland has also tried to serve the needs of Finnish Canadians. In 1923 Akseli Rauanheimo was appointed first Finnish consul in Canada, with an office in Montreal, where most Finns arrived during the years of heaviest immigration. An advocate for immigrants’ rights, Rauanheimo spent endless hours assisting injured and sick immigrants anxious to return to Finland or seeking compensation in Canada, and he helped found Montreal’s Finnish Immigrant Home, which opened in 1927. He was also concerned with strife between Finnish “reds” and “whites” in Canada.
A network of honorary consuls helped Finnish Canadians with translating documents, obtaining passports, and arranging estates and other legal matters. During the Winter War they organized volunteers to fight in Finland, raised money, and solicited the Canadian government for supplies and materiel. During the summer of 1941, however, these efforts ceased because of Finland’s association with Germany, and diplomatic ties were severed when Canada declared war on Finland on 7 December 1941. Until 1947 Finns were served by the Swedish consulates in Canada.
Finland now has a fully staffed embassy in Ottawa, trade commissions and consular offices in Toronto and Vancouver, and honorary consuls in Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste Marie, Timmins, Sudbury, Montreal, and Saint John. During Finland’s elections, immigrants who have retained citizenship can cast their votes at the consulates. Intergovernmental agreements facilitate exchange in social services – most significantly, coordination of pensions. Finnish performers and choirs had North American tours before 1939, and since the war cultural exchange has intensified, sponsored by governments and/or the private sector. Perhaps the liveliest traffic is between the many choirs of both countries, but sports and student exchanges are also significant.
The National Broadcasting Company of Finland airs regular radio programs designed for Finnish North Americans. Its news broadcasts offer current information about Finland. Thunder Bay broadcasts a regular television program, and radio shows have enjoyed intermittent success in Vancouver and Thunder Bay. As well, Suomi-seura (Finland Society), founded in Helsinki in 1927, promotes close ties with Finns abroad, especially through its bi-monthly magazine, Suomen silta (Bridge to Finland; Helsinki, 1927–). The society was among the first bodies to promote group and charter travel between Finland and Canada.
In 1982 the Canadian Friends of Finland (CFF), supported by the International Affairs Branch of Finland’s Ministry of Education, was founded in Toronto to facilitate cultural exchange and cooperation. Within a decade its membership grew to one thousand. Its activities, in English or French, occur mainly in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver, with some activity in Sault Ste Marie.
Several generations of Finns coexist in Canada today. The present challenge for the communities is to provide support and cultural activities to all segments. Their future, at least for the next generation, looks bright. Finns have become well integrated; the majority are born of mixed marriages, and over 90 percent are Canadian citizens. They are not subject to overt discrimination and have learned to tolerate differences within their own communities. Their home country is a prosperous democracy, which welcomes cultural exchange and Finnish-Canadian visitors. In Canada, Finnish speakers find television and radio programming, newspapers, and community services in their own language. Increasingly the community is also looking after the cultural needs of English-speaking Finns. Finnish is taught in many schools, and older people are well cared for in several senior citizens’ homes.
The greatest challenges for the community are to handle with sensitivity the transition from use of the Finnish language to use of English and to continue to uphold Finnish cultural values at a time when immigration from Finland is virtually non-existent.
A short overview of the history of Finland is available in both English and French by Matti Klinge, A Brief History of Finland (Helsinki, 1983). A more comprehensive account is Eino Jutikkala and Kauko Pirinen, A History of Finland (New York, 1974). For an introduction to the first period of emigration, see Reino Kero, Migration from Finland to North America in the Years between the United States Civil War and the First World War (Turku, Finland, 1974); for return migration see Keijo Virtanen, Settlement and Return: Finnish Emigrants (1860–1930) in the International Overseas Return Migration Movement (Turku, Finland, 1979).
To date, there is no comprehensive history of Finnish immigrants in Canada. The Canadian Historical Association’s series on Canada’s ethnic groups published in English as well as in French Varpu Lindström’s The Finns in Canada (Ottawa, 1985). The history of Finnish immigrant women in Canada is covered in Varpu Lindström’s Defiant Sisters: A Social History of Finnish Immigrant Women in Canada, 2nd ed. (Toronto, 1992), published by the Multicultural History Society of Ontario whose occasional paper series also published her The Finnish Immigrant Community of Toronto, 1887–1913 (1979), and devoted vol.3 no.2 (1983) of its bulletin Polyphony to “Finns in Ontario.” There are also two collections that contain scholarly articles on Finns in Canada: Michael G. Karni, ed., Finnish Diaspora 1 (Toronto, 1981), and Varpu Lindström, Oiva Saarinen, and Börje Vähämäki, eds., Melting into Great Waters: Papers from Finnforum V, a special issue of the Journal of Finnish Studies, vol.1, no.3 (1997).
Finnish-Canadian political radicalism has been explored in several articles, including Edward W. Laine, “Finnish-Canadian Radicalism and Canadian Politics: The First Forty Years, 1900–1940,” and Varpu Lindström-Best, “The Socialist Party of Canada and the Finnish Connection, 1905–1911,” both in Jorgen Dahlie and Tissa Fernando, eds., Ethnicity, Power and Politics in Canada (Toronto, 1981), 94–112 and 113–22. On the same theme, see Satu Repo’s “Rosvall and Voutilainen: Two Union Men Who Never Died,” Labour/Le travailleur, no.8/9 (1981–82), 79–102, and Allen Seager’s “Migration and Proletarianization: Aspects of the Finnish Immigrant Experience in Western Canadian Coal Mining, 1880–1940,” Siirtolaisuus/Migration, no.2 (1983), 7–15. The utopian socialist community in British Columbia has been examined extensively by J. Donald Wilson in “Matti Kurikka: Finnish Canadian Intellectual,” BC Studies, no.20 (1973–74), 50–65,“The Socialist Legacy on Malcolm Island after the Collapse of the Utopian Settlement of Sointula,” Journal of Finnish Studies, vol.1, no.3 (1997), 155–64, and “A Synoptic View of Aika, Canada’s first Finnish Language Newspaper,” Amphora, no.29 (1980), 9–14. Most recently the topic was explored in Paula Wild’s Sointula: Island Utopia (Madeira Park, B.C., 1995).
J. Donald Wilson also has edited a special issue of the Lakehead University Review (1976) called “The Finnish Experience,” which is devoted to Finns in the Thunder Bay region. On radical Finnish women see Varpu Lindström, “Finnish Socialist Women in Canada, 1890– 1930,” in Linda Kealey and Joan Sangster, eds., Beyond the Vote: Canadian Women and Politics (Toronto, 1989), 196–216, and her “‘I Won’t Be a Slave!’: Finnish Domestics in Canada, 1911–1930,” in Jean Burnet, ed., Looking into My Sister’s Eyes: An Exploration in Women’s History (Toronto, 1986). The Finnish Organization of Canada has also published a shortened English version of its history by William Eklund, Builders of Canada: History of the Finnish Organization of Canada 1911–1971 (Toronto, 1987). On the press see Arja Pilli, The Finnish-Language Press in Canada, 1901–1939: A Study in the History of Ethnic Journalism (Turku, 1982), and Börje Vähämäki, “Liekki’s First Years,” Kaiku – Echo, vol.3, nos.9–12 (1993).
Several regional and geographical studies as well as some good-quality local histories exist in English. For example, see Oiva W. Saarinen, “Finns in Northeastern Ontario with Special Reference to the Sudbury Area,” Laurentian University Review, vol.15, no.1 (1982), 41–54, and his “Perspectives on Finnish Settlement in Canada,” Siirtolaisuus/Migration, no.3 (1995) 16–22; Mark Rasmussen, “Finnish Settlement in Rural Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada,” in Siirtolaisuus/Migration, no.4 (1982), 3– 15; Mika Roinila, “The Finns of Atlantic Canada,” in FUSAC 91: Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Meeting of the Finno-Ugric Studies Association of Canada, 75–86; and Osmo Lahti, “Early Finnish Canadian Miners in North Wellington, Nanaimo, Extension, and Ladysmith, British Columbia,” in FUSAC 88 (New York, 1984), 67–76. For local histories see Nancy Mattson Schelstraete, ed., Life in the New Finland Woods (Rocanville, Sask., 1982), A Chronicle of Finnish Settlement in Thunder Bay (Thunder Bay, Ont., 1976), and Marc Metsaranta, ed., Project Bay Street: Activities of Finnish-Canadians in Thunder Bay Before 1915 (Thunder Bay, 1989).
On Finnish-Canadian culture see Börje Vähämäki, “Cultural Values and Identity in Early Finnish Canadian Literature,” and Teppo Sintonen’s “Social Interaction and Language Retention among Canadian Finns,” in FUSAC 91, 87–94. On Finnish-Canadian newspapers, see Arja Pilli’s published dissertation, The Finnish Language Press in Canada, 1901–1939 (Turku, 1982). The Finnish workers’ sports movement has its own history in Jim Tester, ed., Sports Pioneers: A History of the Finnish-Canadian Amateur Sports Federation 1906–1986 (Sudbury, Ont., 1986). An interesting anthropological study is Charles M. Sutyla’s The Finnish Sauna in Manitoba (Ottawa, 1977). On the Finnish-Canadian school system, see Anneli Ylänkö, “The Role of Heritage Schools in Ethnic Maintenance and Development,” Journal of Finnish Studies, vol.1, no.3 (1997), 72–78.
Some recent biographical and literary texts include Nelma Sillanpää, Under the Northern Lights: My Memories of Life in the Finnish Community of Northern Ontario (Ottawa, 1994), edited by Edward W. Laine, which has a good description of life in Northern Ontario. Similarly, Aili Grönlund Schneider, The Finnish Baker’s Daughters (Toronto, 1986), is a semi-biographical account of Finnish family life in Timmins, Ontario.
There are many important unpublished scholarly theses in both English and Finnish. As well, scholarly works on Finnish immigration published in Finnish is extensive. Of these, Jouni Korkiasaari’s Suomalaiset maailmalla (Turku, 1989) deserves mention, in particular for its excellent statistical information on Finnish emigration.
Both Finnish and Canadian archives have extensive collections on Finnish Canadians. For the National Archives of Canada collections, see: Edward W. Laine, Archival Sources for the Study of Finnish Canadians (Ottawa, 1989), and his detailed guide On the Archival Heritage of the Finnish Canadian Working-Class Movement (Turku, 1987). Also of importance are the Finnish collections described in Gabriele Scardellato, ed., A Guide to the Collections of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (Toronto, 1992), 114–52.
The Archives of Ontario in Toronto has the extensive Finnish Canadian Historical Society Collection, and the Thunder Bay Finnish Canadian Historical Society collections are in the Lakehead University Archives. Both are rich sources of information complete with finding aids. In Finland, the Migration Institute and the University of Turku Archives, both in Turku, Finland, have private collections, government documents, and valuable statistical information. The University of Helsinki Library has the most complete collection of Finnish Canadian newspapers.