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THE FINNISH EXPERIENCE
IN NORTHWESTERN ONTARIO

Shaping Political and Social Culture in the 20th Century

Welcome! This website documents working class Finnish immigrants at the Lakehead. Explore the moments, events, people and ideas that impacted and changed the labour movement in Canada through the chronological timeline, historical overviews, photographs, videos, audio clips and more.

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Navigate the chronological timeline
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1867 – 1899

1st Wave of Immigration

NEW OPPORTUNTIES

1867

CANADA BECOMES A NATION plus

On July 1, 1867 the first government of the Dominion of Canada is sworn in with
John A. MacDonald as Canada's first Prime Minister. In 1896, the Liberal Party
is elected and Wilfrid Laurier becomes Prime Minister

1876 – 1888

ARRIVAL OF THE FINLANDERS plus

In 1876, the first Finnish immigrants to settle at the Lakehead arrive via the United
States, the main destination for overseas emigrants. In 1888, the first immigrant directly
from Finland arrives in the Lakehead

1890 – 1898

FOUNDATIONS OF A NEW COMMUNITY plus

The first Finnish Lutheran Congregation begins to hold meetings in 1890. In 1897, the
first Finnish church, the Port Arthur Finnish Lutheran Church is built on Wilson Street. It houses
a Temperance Society named Uusi Yritys or New Attempt.
 


OrganizationsEarlySettlersChurch

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World Events
1883  Trades and Labour Congress of Canada Established
1885  Metis Leader Louis Riel Executed in Canada
1886  American Federation of Labor Established
1893  New Zealand First Country in the World to Grant Women the Vote
1896  Klondike Gold Rush begins in the Yukon
1899  The South African War (also known as the Boer War) Begins
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1900 – 1905

Organizational Beginnings

THE FIRST FIVE YEARS

1902

ORGANIZATION OF LABOUR AT THE LAKEHEAD plus

American Federation of Labor organizer Harry Bryan arrives at the Lakehead. Within a year, he organizes
over 22 American Federation of Labor-affiliate unions, assists in the formation of a branch of the Canadian
Socialist League (which later became the Ontario Socialist Party), establishes the region’s first
labour council and leads the region’s first strikes

1903

FINNISH WORKERS BEGIN TO ORGANIZE plus

The Port Arthur Finnish Workingmen’s Association, Imatra #9 is formed. An affiliate of the Brooklyn-based Amerikan Suomalainen Työväenliito Imatra (the Finnish-American Workers’ League), it draws its membership from those Finns dissatisfied with the social and political discussions in the local churches and temperance associations. A sub-branch
of Imatra #9 is formed in Fort William.

1903-05

LABOUR POLITICS plus

The Independent Labour Party is established at the Lakehead. In 1904, local Liberal
supporter Louis Peltier becomes its first candidate, running in the federal general election.


Organizations Lifestyles EarlySettlers Church
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World Events
1900   Kodak Introduces $1 Brownie Cameras
1903   Women’s Social and Political Union Founded in the U.K.
1903   Wright Brothers Make First Flight
1904   Russo-Japanese War Begins
1905   Bloody Sunday – Russian Revolution
1905   Saskatchewan and Alberta are Created
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1906 – 1910

Developing Community Capacity

STRENGTHENING OPPORTUNITIES

1906 – 1908

THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF CANADA FORMED plus

In 1906, frustrated by trade unions and eager for a more active political role, Finnish workers in Port Arthur establish a branch of the Socialist Party of Canada. A branch is established in Fort William in 1908.

1907

THE FIRST FINNISH-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER plus

Työkansa (The Working Class) is published in Port Arthur. Initially affiliated with the Port Arthur Local of the Finnish Socialist Organization, the newspaper was a weekly between 1907 and 1912 and a daily from 1912 to 1915 when it went bankrupt.

1907-1910

CONSTRUCTION OF THE FINNISH LABOUR TEMPLE plus

In 1908, the Port Arthur Finnish Workingmen’s Association, Imatra #9, and the Uusi Yritys (Finnish New Attempt Temperance Society) join together to form the Finnish Building Company to build the Finnish Labour Temple at 314 Bay Street. Designed to serve the needs of the Finnish community, the Temple features offices, a library, reading room and an auditorium for meetings, dances, theatrical productions and sporting events. The grand opening, a three-day long event, is held in March 1910.

1909

LARGE STRIKES FEATURING FINNS plus

Labour unrest over wages and working conditions within the freight handlers for the CPR in Fort William and CNR in Port Arthur culminates on August 12, 1909 with a freight handlers’ strike. Local police, the militia and the Royal Northwest Mounted Police are mobilized. Described as “probably the bloodiest labor riot ever in Canada”, during attempts to forcefully remove strikebreakers, eight strikers are killed and four police officers, two bystanders and 30 strikers wounded.


Workers of Mamiaggi Hotel (Before 1904)(Mummi Dangila, Beda Ahonen & Mrs. Sonja Akonen). Current River (1900s)
1907 Labour Day gathering. Sanna Kannasto & Son.

Slide3Image

World Events
1906  Finland First European Country to Give Women the Right to Vote
1907  Electric Washing Machine Introduced
1908  Ford Introduces Model T
1908  The Port Arthur Trades and Labour Council and the Fort William              Trades and Labour Councils Formed
1909  National Association for the Advancement of Colored
             People Founded
1909  Plastic Invented
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1910 – 1913

Testing the Foundations of Solidarity

WORKERS RESPOND

1910

THE FINNISH LABOUR TEMPLE plus

Reflecting the contributions of Finnish workers in the region, the annual meeting of the Trades
and Labour Congress of Canada is held from September 12 – 17, 1910. From 1910 – 1912,
the Finnish Publishing Company, publishers of the Finn newspaper Työkansa rents
the downstairs of the building.

1911

SOCIAL DEMOCRACY plus

In response to the unequal policies of the Socialist Party of Canada, the Port Arthur local of the Finnish
Socialist Organization of Canada leads other organizations from across Canada to form the Social
Democratic Party of Canada.

1912-1914

ECONOMIC DEPRESSION AND UNREST IN CANADAplus

An economic depression hits the Lakehead and much of Canada. The wheat industry and lumber industries
collapse, paralyzing the local economy. Thousands of workers are left unemployed or with reduced
work and wages. Strikes led by worker organizations result in rioting and violence.

1913

CROSSCURRENTS OF LABOURplus

Social Democratic Party of Canada organizer Herbert Barker is elected president of the Port Arthur Trades and Labour Council. Discussions to merge the labour councils of both cities and construct a joint Central Labour Temple begin. Upset with the activities of the American Federation of Labour affiliated unions and a general apathy towards lumber, workers by the Trades and Labour Congress and local labour councils, Harry Bryan and A.T. Hill begin to organize on behalf of the Industrial Workers of the World which is otherwise known as the Wobblies.


Mayday March (1910).Bay St to Cumberland - Fort William Summer Festival (1913). 1918 farming with ox. Jangilla & Sahl families (Before 1920)
Ray Park (Carrick Park)
Industrialworkersoftheworld
World Events

 

1910   The Tango Craze Catches On
1911   The Incan City of Machu Picchu Discovered
1912    The H.M.S. Titanic Sinks
1912    Oreo Cookies Introduced in the U.S.
1913   The First Moving Assembly Line is Created by Henry Ford
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1914 – 1918

The First World War

PAVING THE WAY FOR POLITICAL CHANGE

1914

THE OUTBREAK OF WAR plus

When Britain entered the war on August 4, Canada was automatically at war too. In
November, Canada establishes a national registration for “enemy aliens” with a focus on
immigrants and political radicals. Over 15% of the population of the Lakehead is categorized
as “enemy aliens”.

1917

CONSCRIPTION CRISIS plus

To replace depleted forces after the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the Canadian government
introduces the Military Service Act. French Canadians and organized labour oppose compulsory
enlistment. Anti-Conscription protests begin at the Lakehead.

1917

FINNISH INDEPENDENCE FROM RUSSIA plus

Finland declares independence from Russia on December 6, 1917. The Finnish Civil War from January 27 – May 15, 1918
is a conflict between the nationalists “White Guards” (with German support) and the socialists “Red Guards” (with Russian support).Thousands of Finns leave for North America, Australia and South America following this bitter division.
All Finns in Canada are required to register with the Canadian authorities.

1918

HOITO RESTAURANT ESTABLISHED plus

Previously, the basement in the Finnish Labour Temple was home to the Osuusruokala (Co-operative Restaurant),
The Workman’s Co-Operative Association Restaurant and The Port Arthur Finnish Socialist Local Restaurant.
Continuing to respond to the needs of bush workers for inexpensive food, the Hoito Restaurant is established.
It remains the oldest co-operatively owned and operated restaurant in Canada and is renowned for
serving traditional Finnish foods as well as Canadian fare.

1918

THE END OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR plus

All socialist organization and language federations are declared illegal on September 25 due to the War Measures Act. The Finnish Labour Temple is closed and Finnish organizations begin to operate underground. An armistice is signed on November 11, 1918. The First World War officially ends on June 28, 1919 with The Treaty of Versailles.


...Intola picnic.Farming in Tarmola. Men cleaning field.<br />
(Ivan Lukkarinen)...
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World Events
1914   The First World War Begins
1917    The Russian Revolution Begins. USA Enters the First World War
1918   Russian Tzar Nicholas II and his Family Murdered
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1919 – 1923

The Worker’s Revolt in Canada

POST-WAR CHANGES

1919

ONE BIG UNION AND THE WINNIPEG GENERAL STRIKE plus

In March, delegates meet in Western Canada to form the One Big Union. It dominates
labour organization at the Lakehead including all Finnish affiliates of the Industrial
Workers of the World (Wobblies) and its affiliates. Control of the Finnish Labour Temple
is transferred to the One Big Union. In May, the Winnipeg General Strike, a defining moment
in Canadian labour history begins. Despite support amongst Lakehead workers,
no sympathy strikes take place.

1920-1930

2ND WAVE OF FINNISH IMMIGRATION plus

Changes in American immigration policy result in many Finnish immigrants coming to
Canada. The vast majority are supporters of the “Red Guards” and fled Finland for fear
of imprisonment and execution.

1920

ONE BIG UNION DIVIDES plus

At the One Big Union National Convention in October at the Finnish Labour Temple
ethnic tensions and differences within the Lumber Workers Industrial Union lead to
Finnish lumber workers leaving en mass. Membership of the One Big Union dwindles
with Finnish workers rejoining the illegal Industrial Workers of the World.

1922-1925

THE COMMUNIST PARTY GAINS STRENGTH plus

In February 1922 with restrictions against socialist organization in place, The Worker’s
Party of Canada is established and controlled by an illegal underground party, the
Communist Party of Canada, organized locally by A.T. Hill, Alf Hautamäki and Harry Bryan.
The Worker’s Party of Canada draws upon disillusioned members of the One Big Union,
the Socialist Party of Canada, the Social Democratic Party of Canada and the
Industrial Workers of the World. By 1923, Finns account for half of the Communist Party’s members.

1923

LITTLE FINN HALL ESTABLISHED plus

Former Finnish newspaper offices at 316 Bay Street are sold to Finnish members of the
Communist Party of Canada, establishing the “Little Finn Hall”. The Finnish Labour
Temple is now referred to as the “Big Finn Hall”. The IWW Canadan Teollisuusunionistinen
Kannatusliitto is established and becomes the majority shareholder of the Finnish Labour Temple.


Photo taken in front of Osuuruokala on Bay St.
(Sarja Juhalt Menossa, Reklaami Kuvassa & Unknown) Hoito staid in front of the Hoito.
(L.E Poutanen & Hilma Niemi (Kivisto) Bush camp girls. Kivikoski Family
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World Events
1919   The First World War Ends with The Treaty of Versailles
1920   First Commercial Radio Broadcast Aired
1920   Women Granted the Right to Vote in U.S.
1923   Talking Movies Invented
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1924 – 1928

The Worker’s Revolt in Canada

MAINTAINING UNITY

1924

A DEATH IN RUSSIA, A BIRTH IN CANADA plus

Russian communist revolutionary and political theorist, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s death
sparks changes to the Canadian communist movement. Hundreds of Finnish, Ukrainian,
English and Italian workers from the Worker’s Party of Canada attend a memorial in Fort
William. By 1925, Finns make up 60% of the Communist Party of Canada’s total
membership of 4,000. The Industrial Worker’s of the World’s dwindling membership in
Ontario is comprised mostly of Finns in Northwestern Ontario. Responding to the growing needs of
bush workers for inexpensive food, the Finnish led International Cooperative Trading Company is established.
By the end of 1925, branch stores existed in Port Arthur, Fort William, Westfort, Lappe, Intola,
Kaministiqua, Schreiber, and Kivikoski.

1926

THE CHANGING FACE OF COMMUNISM plus

The anti-socialist Port Arthurin Suomalainen Kansallisseura (Finnish National Society)
merges with the Loyal Finns of Canada to create the Loyal Finns of Canada, Port Arthur Branch.
To better control the activities of national Communist parties,the Communist International
begins a process called “Bolshevization” or “Stalinization”. Finnish Canadian Communists view
this as a threat and increasingly become disillusioned with the Communist Party of Canada.

1926

WIDESPREAD SOLIDARITY IN THE LUMBER INDUSTRY plus

In over eight weeks in September, a series of large strikes occurs with every major union
and all socialist organizations involved. 30 companies and 3,000 lumber workers in
Northwestern Ontario are involved. 2,500 other workers participate in the Thunder Bay District.

1927

UNOFFICIAL BEGINNING OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION plus

A recession begins, initially affecting the resource industry.Northwestern Ontario is hit
hard. In 1929, a worldwide economic downturn results in the Great Depression that
leaves millions of Canadians unemployed, hungry or homeless. Between 1929
and 1939, Canada’s gross national product decreased by 40%.By 1933, 30% of the
population is out of work.


Young Workers League Socialist Youth Conference. 
(1927 - Waino) Finnish organization (Small Hall at 316 Bay St) in the 1930's. 
Back row 5th from left: Antti Kari, Edwm Sukai & Yrjo Saivo - front far right
2nd row 5th: Frank Makela Logs cut and ready to be transported. Logging in the 1900's. Horse and logs on sled.
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World Events
1924   First Olympic Winter Games
1925   Flapper Dresses Become the Rage
1925   Nazi Leader, Adolph Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” Published
1926   First Assassination Attempt on Italy’s Benito Mussolini
1927   The First Talking Movie, The Jazz Singer Premieres
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1929 – 1931

Hostility and Tragedy at the Lakehead

SOLIDARITY AND DIVISION

1929

THE TURNING POINT plus

Viljo Rosvall and Janne Voutilainen, two Finnish-Canadian labour organizers mysteriously disappear
on November 18, 1929 on their way to recruiting bush workers at Onion Lake for a large strike.
In a rare show of solidarity, Communists, the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies),
and unorganized workers join the search. Their bodies are discovered the following spring.
The funeral for Rosvall and Voutilainen on April 28, 1930 is the largest ever held in Thunder Bay.
However, in 1932, Communists blame the Wobblies for disrupting the five-month search and
possibly murdering Rosvall and Voutilainen.

1930

STRIKE AND UNEMPLOYMENTplus

Thousands of workers protest over improved living and working conditions. In October, police raid
the Finnish Labour Temple and the offices of the Communist Lumber and Agricultural Worker Industrial
Union of Canada and the Canadian Labour Defense League for evidence to deport Finns. At the height
of the Great Depression in 1931, almost 10,000 of Canada’s estimated 70,000 Finns are unemployed.
Shortages of money and resources increase dependence on assistance. Municipal relief
programs discriminate against Finns and other “non-English speaking crap”

1930

GROWING DISSATISFACTIONplus

The leadership of the Communist Party of Canada criticizes Finnish organizers in Port Arthur for attitudes of superiority.
The Communist Party of Canada creates the Workers’ Unity League advocating for the creation of separate Communist
unions. Finnish and Ukrainian members oppose the new organizational model.

1931

KARELIAN FEVER STRIKES plus

Almost 3,000 Finnish socialists leave Canada for the Karelia Autonomous Soviet Republic driven by nostalgia and a desire
to live in a truly socialist society. By 1932, much of the regional Finnish leadership of both the Communist and Industrial Workers of the World lumber unions has emigrated.

1931

FACTIONAL DISPUTES plus

The Communist Party of Canada accuses Alf and Ailiane Hautamäki (head of the Finnish Women’s Labour League branch
in Port Arthur) of refusing to comply with party directives. Alf Hautamäki is also blamed for the failure of Bolshevization
to take hold within the Finnish membership of the Lumber and Agricultural Worker Industrial Union of Canada.


Image8
World Events
1929   The Wall Street Stock Market Crash
1929   The Great Depression Begins
1929   250 People Attend First Academy Awards Ceremony
1930   The Planet Pluto is Discovered
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1932 – 1934

New and Reemerging Organizations

CHALLENGES TO THE STATUS QUO

1932

THE RISE OF THE COOPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH FEDERATION plus

On May 26, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation is established through an alliance of socialist, agrarian, co-operative, and other labour organizations in Calgary, Alberta.

1932

RE-EMERGENCE OF INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD plus

Finns organize a meeting of Industrial Workers of the World delegates representing branches and industrial unions from across Canada to establish a Canadian Administration. Headquarters are established at the Finnish Labour Temple. Inspired by the socialist republic in Chile, the Industrial Workers of the World calls for a general strike. In October, over 1,000 unemployed workers march to protest the lack of government assistance. Mounted officers break up the demonstrators. K. Jaaska, a Finnish work is injured and dies. Officers then raid the Finnish Labour Temple, the Port Arthur Communist headquarters (316 Bay) and the Scandinavian Workers’ Society Hall.

1933 – 1934

BUSH WORKERS STRIKES PREDOMINATE plus

Throughout the year, a large series of strikes and protests organized by Finnish Wobblies and Communists dominate the logging and mining industries. Thousands of Finnish workers and supporters are involved. In 1933, non-socialist Finnish lumber workers establish the Canadian Bushman’s Union, an affiliate of the All Canadian Congress of Labour that is supported by the newly formed Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. In 1934, the Canadian Bushman’s Union ceases to exist due to lack of support.

1934 – 1940

ENEMIES OF THE STATE plus

Following Lenin’s death, the new leader of the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin consolidates his power. Under the guise of repressing counter-revolutionaries, large-scale purges occur. From government officials to peasants, thousands of peopleare accused of political crimes and executed or sent to
labour camps. The Finns from Thunder Bay who went to establish a socialist utopia in Karelia are affected. Of the nearly 3000 Finns from Canada, over 600 are never heard from again.


sportTormola Associate (1920s)
Executive Members Big Finn Hall (1930s)
legs
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World Events

1932   Amelia Earhart First Woman to Fly Solo Across the Atlantic
1933   Adolf Hitler Appointed Chancellor of Germany
1933   First Nazi Concentration Camp Established
1933   Prohibition Ends in the U.S.
1934   The Great Terror Begins in the Soviet Union

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1935 – 1938

Alliances and Protests

RESPONDING TO THE GREAT DEPRESSION

1935 – 1939

THE POPULAR FRONT plus

The Workers’ Unity League is dissolved. Communists begin the Popular Front to build alliances
with all organizations opposed to fascism. It lasts until 1939 and the onset of the Second World War.

1935

LUMBER AND SAWMILL UNION ESTABLISHED plus

In June and July, the last strikes by the Communist Party’s Lumber Worker’s
Industrial Union of Canada occur. Under the leadership of Bruce Magnuson, the union
enters into an affiliation with the American Federation of Labor and becomes the Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union. Local 2693 represent lumber workers at the Lakehead.

1935

ON-TO-OTTAWA TREK plus

The On-to-Ottawa Trek in June is a result of protests by thousands of unemployed
single men across Canada. Upset with federal work camps offering only subsistence living, they want the government to find them jobs. Originating on the West Coast, the trek gains momentum and becomes more militant as it proceeds across the country. It ends on June 1 in Regina with a clash between the protesters and police.


Edna Lilhook (L) & Aune Lilhook. They lived at 1385 Empire Ave in Port Arthur. Nieces of Viktor Lilhayk who is mentioned among early Finns in Port Arthur.LJubilee photo of Queen & King (Visit in 1935).
Naislutto in front of Vigor Restaurant on Bay St. North Branch. (Alf Widgien)
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World Events
1935   The Anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws Issued in Germany
1936   King Edward VIII of England Abdicates
1936   Spanish Civil War Begins
1937   Japan Invades China

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1939 – 1945

The Second World War

FAR REACHING CHANGE

1939

ONSET OF WAR plus

On September 1, 1939, Germany invades Poland. Britain and France declare war.
On September 10, 1939 Canada declares war on Germany.
The war propels Canada out of the depression and irrevocable changes the country.

1939-1945

LABOUR CHALLENGES AND CHANGE plus

The war years are a period of profound change for organized labour.
By 1945, 10% of the total population joins the army. To cope with labour shortages,
thousands of women are recruited into the workforce. Union membership
increases dramatically to the benefit of international
unions under the umbrella of the Committee for Industrial Organization.

1939-1945

ENEMY ALIENS ONCE MORE plus

For Finns, two military conflicts alienate them further and bring increased scrutiny from the Canadian state;
the Winter War in 1939 – 1940 between Finland and the Soviet Union and the Continuation War of 1941-44
where Finland allies with Germany against the Soviets.
Finnish organizations are banned under the War Measures Act and Finns are declared "enemy aliens."
Only after Finland's defeat in 1944 and the news of forced relocation by the Soviets does opinion shift.


Finnish Organization of Canada (FOC)LadiesPort Arthur Finnish Woman Redcross Support Group (1940's).Parking carepackages for Finland's war relief.1939 Co op Meeting in Fort William.
Image11
World Events
1940   The Battle of Britain Begins
1940   Leon Trotsky Assassinated
1941   Japanese Attack Pearl Harbour
1944   D-Day
1945   The First Computer is Built
1945   United Nations Founded
1945   U.S. Drops Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
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1946 – 1962

Post-War Changes

POLITICAL AND SOCIAL TRANSITIONS

1951-1970

THE THIRD WAVE OF FINNISH IMMIGRATION plus

Over 20,000 Finnish immigrants arrive in Canada because of the employment opportunities,
economic instability in Finland, and fears of conflict in Europe.

1960

RISE OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY plus

In 1961, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and the Canadian Labour Congress merge to form
a new political party, the New Democratic Party of Canada. Tommy Douglas, the long-time CCF premier of
Saskatchewan is elected the first leader. The amalgamation brings together organized labour and the political left.

1962

ESTABLISHMENT OF THE FINLANDIA CLUB OF PORT ARTHUR plus

Third Wave Finns are instrumental in establishing the Finlandia Club of Port Arthur and becoming major shareholders
of the Finnish Building Company Limited founded in 1908. The Finnish Labour Temple is designated a National
Historic Site of Canada in July 2011.


National Union of Public Employers.Guest speaker / Minister from Finland at Trinity United Church (1950's)<br />
Hoito kitchen (1967).Kuntso & Cook Tyyne Sjon
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World Events
1946   Winston Churchill Delivers Iron Curtain Speech
1947   Polaroid Cameras Invented
1949   China becomes a Communist country
1951   Peace Treaty With Japan, Officially Ends the Second World War
1952   Princess Elizabeth Becomes Queen of England
1954   Segregation Declared Illegal in the United States
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javascript carousel

snapshot
At the end of the 19th century, hundreds of Finnish immigrants begin arriving in North America attracted by the promise of cheap land and unlimited opportunities. Many of them settled in the twin cities of Port Arthur and Fort William, hubs of the resource-rich Canadian hinterland in the geographical centre of North America. For these newly arrived immigrants, the focal points for community were in the Finnish quarter on Bay Street in Port Arthur and the neighbourhoods near the Fort William Coal Docks. They quickly established cultural activities, athletic clubs, churches, political organizations and, ultimately, played a pivotal role in the early Canadian labour movement. Discover the intriguing stories of the people, the political parties, and the unions that contributed to the contested and complicated legacy of Finns at the Lakehead.


From Finland to Canada

images

THREE WAVES OF FINNISH IMMIGRATION

1st Wave: 1890 – 1914 | 2nd Wave: 1922 – 1930 | 3rd Wave: 1960

Between 1860 – 2008, 1.4 million people emigrated from Finland to communities around the world.

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Finnish Population in Thunder Bay

Population of Port Arthur & Fort William Combined

populationview larger

The Finnish Labour Temple

The Grand Opening of the Hall took place in 1910. The building was designated a National Historical Site of Canada in 2011.

Snapshot_Image1


A Centre in Canadian Working-Class History

A confluence in east-west communication, the Lakehead was home to socialists, trade unionists and mainstream liberals in over 60 organizations who fought for common goals.

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Employment in the Lakehead in 1911

74.39% of Male Finns were general labourers

FINNISH WOMEN
WERE PRIMARILY HOTEL STAFF, COOKS, AND DOMESTICS.

THE WAGES OF FINNISH WOMEN WERE LESS THEN HALF OF MEN'S IN EQUIVALENT JOBS

Top employers of General Labourers

  • Pigeon River Lumber Co.
  • Canadian Pacific Railway
  • City of Port Arthur
  • City of Fort William
  • Stewart & Hewitson Contractors
  • John A. Whalen Contractors
  • Vigars & Sheare Lumber Co.


The Turning Point in Solidarity

Finnish-Canadian labour organizers, Viljo Rosvall and Janne Voutilainen, mysteriously disappeared on November 18, 1929 enroute to recruiting bush workers for a large strike.


Traditional Finnish Cuisine

turnipFinnish staple foods have included carbohydrates like the turnip and the potato since the 18th century. The Finnish pancakes served at The Hoito have origins in the bush camps where serving hearty starch-based fare with available ingredients was a culinary challenge.


City of Thunder Bay is Formed

On January 1, 1970, a merger of the cities of Fort William, Port Arthur and the townships of Neebing and McIntyre.


 

 
Culture & Traditions images

Finnish identity in Canada was preserved by activities that focused on a love of the outdoors, the arts, sport and culinary traditions.

Daily Life images

For all Finns, daily life began and ended in the sauna. It was a balm for the spirit after the rigors of work and homesteading.

profiles images

The political and social culture in the Lakehead was shaped by Finnish men and women determined to make a difference.

stories images

Many stories of this time period are remembered through narratives, anecdotes, family histories and more. Tell us your story!

the politics

The Revolutionary Force

The Finnish community in Canada has never been homogenous. While socialist-orientated “Red Finns” outnumbered the more religious and conservative “White Finns” until the late 1950s, Finnish immigrants held a variety of political beliefs. Although more socially progressive than average Canadians at the time, First Wave Finns (1888-1914) were often radicalized by their experiences in Canada. Second Wave Finns (1917-1930), many of who were political refugees fleeing Finland after the Russian Revolution and Finnish Civil War, arrived with strong socialist beliefs. Canadian immigration policy after the Second World War reflected Cold War fears and ensured that Third Wave Finns (1950-1970) were much more anti-socialist. For many, the promise of a new beginning in Canada was quelled by the reality of harsh working conditions, ethnic prejudice and the social inequalities. Seeking to contribute positively to social change, Finns at the Lakehead played a significant role in the development of the Canadian labour and socialist movements. LONG READ

world events images

The world system destabilizes as a result of rapid economic, technological change and resistance to European domination.

political evolution images

The trajectory in the Lakehead from early organization and the beginnings of change to severe challenges to radicalism and disolution.

organizations & parties images

The rise of left-wing organizations including the Communist Party, the One Big Union and the Industrial Workers of the World.

THE PLACE The Place

The Portal to Commerce in Western Canada

By the early 1900s, Lake Superior’s north shore evolved from a declining fur trading outpost to an important transportation hub with a bustling grain shipping terminal, a railway centre and fledgling businesses and services. In response to the promise of opportunities, the population of the Lakehead increased rapidly. Immigrants from different regions of Finland were vital to economic development. With their deeply rooted attachment to the land they adapted easily to life in the Boreal Forest, with its isolation, challenging weather conditions, poor transportation and other demands. Familiar with unskilled labour, men worked in the mines, logging camps, railroads and docks. Single women worked as domestic servants and lumber camp cooks. The Finns settled in almost every rural township in Northwestern Ontario believing that they were only in Canada temporarily before returning to their homeland with their fortune. …LONG READ

The Economy images

The frontier of the Canadian Lakehead transformed with opportunities in mining, logging, railway construction and shipping.

The Finnish
Labour Temple
images

Built in 1910, the Finnish Labour Temple has evolved from being one of the biggest workers' halls in Canada to serving as an iconic landmark for visitors to Thunder Bay.

maps images

Discover Port Arthur and Fort William at the beginning of the 20th Century through maps.