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The pattern of Finnish settlement in Canada resembles that in the United States. Occupance of the open prairie is almost unknown, or of the semiarid localities where irrigation is a requirement of agriculture. Outside urban centers the Finn lives on rolling lands interrupted by the coniferous forest or by birch if it can flourish (Fig. 2). Farm sites generally flank rivers or lakes or are easily accessible to them. In the Prairie Provinces "parklands" are preferred to open country. Soils are likely to be podzols, and some of them poorly drained; in fact, a little muskeg now and then is not unwelcome to a Finn. Of course, Finns do not shun black-earth land if, as rarely happens, they can afford to buy it.
With few exceptions, the Finns in Canada reside where both the terrain and the climate resemble those of their native land (Figs. 1 - 5).2 Even urban Finns refer to the satisfaction they find in living in a region climatically and scenically related to Finland. To be sure, no "Canadian Rockies" rise majestically from Finland's surface. But neither have large numbers of Finns settled in the Rockies.
|Fig. 1 - Distribution of Finns in Canada. This map, when compared with
maps of climatic factors, soils, natural vegetation, and minerals, shows a remarkable
correspondence in distribution pattern. (Data from Census of Canada, 1941).
|Fig. 2 - Natural vegetation regions (generalized). Comparison of this map
with Figure 1 reveals the generally close association of Finnish settlement with
coniferous and birch forests. Even those who live in cities such as Toronto and Hamilton
often have summer cottages in the coniferous area. (Data from several sources, including
provincial soil surveys.)
|Fig. 3 - Types-of-farming areas. Where the Finns are engaged in farming,
their location generally coincides with the "mixed farming" region as delineated
here. (After map, "Main Types of Farming", Canada Year Book, 1950,
opposite p. 420.)
|Fig. 4 - Mean annual snowfall. In the parts of Finland from which most of
the Finns have emigrated (southwest and south-central Finland), snowfall may be as much as
60 inches, and occasionally 80 inches. These figures are of the same order as those
indicated on this map. (Data from C. E. Koeppe: The Canadian Climate [Bloomington, Ill.,
|Fig. 5 - Soil map of southern Alberta (generalized). Although the number
of Finnish centers shown here is the same on the two great soil groups, gray and dark, far
more Finns are settled on the transition and gray-wooded soils than on the black to brown
soils. Furthermore, four of the six Finnish centers on nongray soils are cities. The
largest number of Finns are found in Eckville and Sylvan Lake.
Key to legend: 1, short-grass prairie, A horizon about 5 inches deep and brown in color; 2, shortgrass prairie, A horizon 7 inches deep and dark brown in color; 3, grasslands with "bluffs" of trees where moisture is favorable, A horizon 10 inches deep, of which upper 3 to 6 inches is black; 4, grassland with woodlands (parkland), A horizon 12 to 14 inches deep and black to dark brown in color; 5, woodland, soils mixed, ranging from black to gray; 6, mixed deciduous and evergreen woodland with peat and muskeg, surface horizon semidecomposed leaf-mold layer, absent if burned over, exposing thin horizon of gray-black, brown, or gray-brown soil; unshaded areas essentially unexplored with reference to soils but believed gray-wooded. (Based on map, "Soil Zones of Alberta", University of Alberta, 1945.)
In forested areas where merchantable timber is being cut, it is more than likely that Finns will be numbered among the employees. Their names also appear on mill payrolls. The strong attraction of the forest and podzol soils is strikingly exemplified in southeastern Saskatchewan. The forests of the region have been burned over, but slightly north of "New Finland" a small area escaped destruction. This patch of forest grows on podzol soils, and here, too, are Finns.
The Finns who work in the mines and lumber camps of Canada, as in the United States, may be regarded as engaged in temporary occupations. Their objective generally is to accumulate enough funds to buy a farm.
Table I - Total population and resident Finns in selected Canadian cities*
|Regina||27||60,246||Sault Ste. Marie||851||25,794|
|* Figures for the first five cities are from the 1946 census, for the remainder from the 1941 census. The strong "anti-urbanism" of the Finns is well illustrated in these figures. In general, the smaller urban centers have relatively the larger numbers of Finns. Cities, such as Vancouver and Toronto, that have a large absolute number of Finns have also a large total population, so that the ratio of Finns is small.|
Settlement can be conveniently treated by regions whose focal centers are cities, not because of a preponderance of Finns in cities, but for practicability of identification. As a matter of fact, more Finns are rural than urban (Table I and Fig. 6), and more live in the smaller urban centers than in the larger. The province of Ontario contains more than half of the Finns in Canada, and of these more are rural than urban. Many who work in the larger cities have their residences in the outskirts or own a cottage in the "country" where they spend their leisure when they can. The chief areas of Finnish settlement are Victoria-Vancouver, Edmonton-Calgary, a middle transition zone, and the Lake Superior and Toronto-Hamilton regions.
|Fig. 6 - Rural and urban Finns, by provinces. The preference of Finns for rural areas is clear from this graph. The exception is the province of Quebec, where Montreal has attracted considerable numbers. (Data from Census of Canada, 1941.)|
The First Settlements
In the United States, virtually all the first Finns came direct from Finland, but in Canada large numbers came from the United States and Alaska. The earliest records of Finnish settlers in the United States date from 1640,3 when, as part of a Swedish expedition, they landed in the vicinity of present day Wilmington, Del. At this time Finland was under Swedish suzerainty, and although the various expeditions to the Delaware River region have been credited to the Swedes, many Finns participated in them, either as crew members or as colonists. Finns, some of them sailors who had deserted their ships, also entered the United States at other points along the Atlantic seaboard, notably Boston, Gloucester, Lanesville, and Rockport, certainly as early as the mid-nineteenth century, and eventually migrated westward. Whether any of these Finns entered Canada is not authenticated, but it is likely enough. Apparently the first Finns4 in Canada arrived at the beginning of the nineteenth century, to serve as laborers in the construction of the first Welland Canal. Whether these Welland Canal Finns came from Finland via Delaware or were descendants of previous settlers is not known. It is more logical that they were of the element that entered elsewhere along the seaboard.
|Fig. 7 - Immigration of Finnish nationals into Canada, 1920-1946. The large number of immigrants in the period 1921-1931, except for a brief depression in 1922, was due to conditions of prosperity in North America. At the same time Europe was struggling to recover from the effects of the First World War. The depression of the thirties and the Second World War readily account for the negligible immigration since 1932. (Data from Canada Year Books.)|
Other early entrants into Canada came in consequence of the purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867. After the transfer many Finns who had served the Russian government headed southward to Vancouver Island and near-by localities in British Columbia,5 possibly en route to the United States. What happened to these settlements is unknown. There are unsubstantiated reports too that Finns reached this area as early as 1840. In any case, it seems reasonably certain that none of these Finns reached eastern Canada or even the plains along the eastern base of the Canadian Rockies.
Data on later settlements are more satisfactory, though statistical accuracy in details is not possible because of the character of the Canadian population-census classification and the historical vicissitudes of Finland itself. Until 1809, Finland was under Swedish suzerainty, then under Russian until independence was gained in 1918. In consequence, Finnish immigrants and their descendants are sometimes classified in the Canadian records as Swedish and sometimes as Russian and thus are lost. This circumstance cannot be rectified, but the general conclusions drawn here are not greatly affected by it.
The Canadian Pacific Railway and Finnish Settlement
The most influential single element in the early settlement of much, if not most, of Canada was the Canadian Pacific Railway. Entering into the transcontinental field somewhat later than its confreres in the United States, the company profited by their experience, particularly in the opening up of the Prairie Provinces and far western Canada. Instead of looking for excessive profits from land sales and government subsidies and ignoring the future of settlers who might take up plots of ground, the C.P.R. approached its problem in an essentially scientific manner. The type of settler was sought who would make a contribution to the development of the land, one who knew something about farming and whose objective was permanent occupance. The speculator and others who looked upon residence as temporary were discouraged. The land, the climate, and other elements were studied to determine their quality before the land was sold. In fact, in the contract with the national government it was stipulated that the lands granted as a subsidy were to be "fairly fit for settlement".6 To determine which lands were "fit", agricultural experiment stations were established. The national government not only provided subsidies but cooperated closely with the company in opening up this new territory.
|Fig. 8 - This trainload of prospective settlers entering Canada from the United States in 1891 may have carried some Finns. Whether it did nor not, it reveals something of the effectiveness of Canadian advertising. (Photograph courtesy Canadian Pacific Railway.)|
The year 1871 is generally cited as marking the beginning of the great railway era in Canada, but it was not until 1880 that construction on the first transcontinental line was actually begun. Labor supply and settlers posed a problem for the builders. The government stepped in and took the greater share of the responsibility of attracting people. Extensive advertising campaigns (Figs. 8 and 9) were carried on in both the United States and Europe, with special emphasis on the new agricultural opportunities. Just how many Finns were among those who "answered the call" is not known but certainly some did. On the other hand, it is generally believed that many more came to Canada in response to letters of the first adventurers, who wrote home to relatives and friends of the bright outlook in the new country.
|Fig. 9 - A display of western Canadian farm products. Such displays were distributed widely in the United States and Europe by both the Canadian government and the Canadian Pacific Railway to entice people to settle in Canada. (Photograph courtesy Canadian Pacific Railway.)|
Later, in the 1920's, the C.P.R. induced "several thousands" to immigrate to engage in "farm work, logging, and mining".7 Finns were rated as the best railroad workers among all the nationalities; most of them were recruited from Minnesota and Upper Michigan.
Many Finns, after accumulating enough money to buy a piece of land, quit railroading. Those who remained with the company had to seek other occupations when the road was completed. Some took up homesteads, bought land, or engaged in lumbering, or moved on to railroad work elsewhere. As in the United States, the immigrant Finn, unafraid of hard labor, was a pioneer at heart and accepted almost any kind of employment at first, as a means to an end rather than as a permanent way of life. He seemed to find great satisfaction in living on the frontier and helping to advance it. His children, however, did not always feel the same, nor were they encouraged to do so. Many obtained a good education, often at considerable parental sacrifice, and ultimately found employment in the professions and a variety of businesses.
The enlargement of the Sault Ste. Marie Canal, 1888-1895, attracted many Finns, who subsequently settled in the vicinity. Others moved to Timmins, Copper Cliff, North Bay, and other communities to the east and north to engage largely in mining, logging, and farming. They also contributed to the permanence of these new centers.
The Victoria-Vancoucer Region
Reference has already been made to the early appearance of Finns in the British Columbia area. Gibbon, in his "Canadian Mosaic", refers again and again to the Finns as workers who helped build the Canadian Pacific Railway and subsequently became permanent settlers in the vicinity of the right of way. Some of these men were attracted to mining and found employment in the coal mines at Wellington and Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, in 1885. Gibbon8 states further: "Ever since then there has been a steady flow of Finns to British Columbia, where there are now 39 communities of varying sizes."
One of the most interesting of these communities is Sointula (Place of Harmony), Malcolm Island, off Vancouver Island, where Finnish coal miners at Nanaimo started a cooperative enterprise in 1901. Gibbon comments as follows on that venture:
Kurikka [a Finn exiled by the Russians] was invited to come to Nanaimo [from Australia], and on his arrival started a Finnish newspaper, in which he could carry on propaganda for a co-operative farming community. In November, 1901, the Provincial Government granted the whole of Malcolm Island, consisting of 28,000 acres, to the Finnish Cooperative Company on condition that the Company brought 350 families to the Island in the next seven years, improve the land to the extent of $2.50 per acre, and build its own schools, wharfs, roads, etc.
Kolehmainen,9 speaking of Finnish immigration into British Columbia between 1880 and 1900 and the subsequent joining up of the Finns with Kurikka at Sointula, notes their willingness to follow in new paths because "coal mining became disagreeable and was extremely hazardous; wages were inadequate and living accommodations in the towns repugnant". They "recalled the simple life on the farms [in Finland], the bright northern sunshine and clear atmosphere, bracing winds, swaying evergreens, and their love for the soil". The project met with many difficulties.
Kurikka eventually returned to Finland, and in 1905 the last remnants of the colony faded out. However, a few determined Finns elected to remain on Malcolm Island and, joined in the course of time by new immigrants, worked out a satisfactory life for themselves, though no longer as members of a formal organized colony.
Although the Finns of the Victoria-Vancouver region seem for the most part to have remained reasonably fixed, increased railroad accessibility of the mountain areas to the east brought opportunity for jobs in lumber camps from time to time, and in a few instances for the acquisition of a bit of farmland. However, Finnish settlers in the Canadian Rockies and along their eastern front came rather from the east than from the west, either direct or via the United States.
The Edmonton-Calgary Region
This region, essentially the eastern front of the Rockies, is a somewhat elongated zone extending from Edmonton on the north to Calgary and Lethbridge on the south and eastward to the edge of the semiarid belt. The Finns here are located mostly on farms; a few are in coal mines and in the urban centers.
|Fig. 10 - One of the more prosperous Finnish farm homes on a reasonably well developed
farm on rich parkland soils at Radway, Alberta. The window frames are typically Finnish.
(Photograph courtesy of J. Luoma, Edmonton.)
|Fig. 11 - A pioneer farm home at Trochu, Alberta. The bleakness of the landscape and
of the house is a commentary on the caliber of the settler who has cast his lot with this
environment. (Photograph courtesy J. Luoma, Edmonton.)
|Fig. 12 - A Finn harvests a cereal not readily grown in his native land. Although
attracted to land that will support products with which he is familiar, the Finn is
adaptable agriculturally as long as his physical environment is satisfactory. (Photograph
courtesy J. Luoma, Edmonton.)
|Fig. 13 - This modern dairy barn on a farm at Thorhild gives evidence of an effective
conquest of Alberta land and the development of a productive dairy herd. (Photograph
courtesy J. Luoma, Edmonton.)
|Fig 14 - This hotel, built by Finns for Finns, is eight miles west of Sudbury in a
dominantly Finnish farming community. Inside and outside it is severe. (Photograph
courtesy of Hans Sula and W. S. Beaton, Sudbury.)
|Fig. 15 - Finnish skill in log-cabin construction is illustrated by this residence on the shore of a lake three miles from Sudbury. (Photograph courtesy of Hans Sula and W. S. Beaton, Sudbury.)|
A Finnish resident of Calgary, Mr. Andy Siren, asserts10 that his father was the first Finn to settle in Alberta (1910) and that in consequence of his stories as a correspondent for several newspapers and magazines published in Finland immigrants began to move in from Finland in 1912. One of the older Finnish residents of Edmonton, Mr. J. Luoma, himself an immigrant via the United States, estimates the date of first arrivals as 1910-1911. He states that the first settlers were those who had served as railroad workers on new projects, and who had written to relatives and friends "back home" encouraging them to come to Canada. Others of the Finnish settlers had been miners in Utah, Montana, and Idaho, who acquired homesteads by working in Canadian mines or woods during the winter to earn ready cash.
According to the Supervisor of Immigration11 for the Province of Alberta: "Finnish settlers seem to prefer those areas which lie in the transition belts between heavily forested areas of evergreens and parklands of deciduous trees [Fig. 2]. Finnish people as a rule, at least in this Province, specialize in mixed farming [Fig. 3]." This preference is borne out by the census of 1941, which shows 1276 Finns in the territory west of Red Deer, of whom only 151 are listed as urban. In fact, in the entire province, of the 3467 Finns, only 603 are classified as urban.12 Sylvan Lake, west of Red Deer, is a noted Finnish farming center, and Radway, northeast of Edmonton (Figs. 5 and 10), is another of growing importance. Current data for the province would in all probability reveal about the same ratio between rural and urban Finns, as witness those for 1946, which record only 361 urban Finns out of a total of 2220.13
The Middle Transition Zone
In much of eastern and southeastern Alberta and most of Saskatchewan, Finns are few and far apart; the region is, in fact, a kind of Finnish no man's land between the concentrations along the mountain front and the Winnipeg-Ontario settlements. The climate is largely semiarid; agriculture is dependent in part on irrigation, and forests at best are spotty - in short, it is not "Finnish country". Where, in extreme southeastern Saskatchewan east of Regina, physical conditions become more appealing to Finnish taste, an irregular succession of small settlements extends between Qu'Appelle and Winnipeg. The countryside around Tantallon, on the Qu'Appelle River, was at one time styled "New Finland", and for a short period there was an official post office of this name. Wapella and Whitewood, along the railway, are occasionally considered to be part of New Finland. The settlements thin out as one travels into Manitoba. The sensitivity of the Finns to the physical environment makes it possible to predict with precision the probable location of Finnish settlers in the countryside.
A different type of settlement - urban - has Winnipeg as a focal center. A knot of Finns has gathered here, part from the farms of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, part from the United States, and the remainder from eastern Canada and Finland. East of Winnipeg are Elma and Lac du Bonnet, small centers of Finnish farmers. The first Finns at Elma, 50 miles east of Winnipeg, were homesteaders (in 1900), perhaps 25 families in all, of which only about ten remain today. The older people have died off, and the younger have moved to the cities. At Lac du Bonnet, 30 miles north of Elma, five Finnish families are known to have located in 1905, followed by a few more in later years.
Among the earliest Finns to arrive (1905) in Winnipeg14 was a woman from Port Arthur, who found one Finnish-Swedish family living there. They were joined by immigrants, a few at a time, direct from Finland and representing, eight of Finland's nine provinces. Between 1925 and 1932 there was a considerable inflow, originating in Finland, the northern United States, farms in Saskatchewan and in Manitoba not far west of Winnipeg, and a few other localities. It was in this period that the Finnish population of Winnipeg reached its maximum, some 300. It has since decreased, at first because of the economic depression of the 1930's, and today the number is estimated to be between 150 and 200. They are engaged in a variety of activities not distinguishable from those that might be pursued by a group of the same size of any other nationality.
The Winnipeg Finns are principally older people no longer able to carry on farming, mining, or lumbering, and younger people of the second generation. These latter are readily absorbed into the general Canadian group. Many have married non-Finns and lost their identity as Finns. Nevertheless, some of them retain enough of a kind of inherited sentimental nationalism to take an active part in the Viking Club, composed of Danes, Swedes, Icelanders, Norwegians, and Finns. The older Finns enjoy a small club organization of their own, continue the use of their native language, and practice some of their original customs.
The Lake Superior Region
This region comprises two areas (Fig. 1), one extending northeastward from the twin cities of Port Arthur-Fort William and the other east and northeast of Sault Ste. Marie, including the Sudbury-Timmins district. The earliest arrivals in the Port Arthur-Fort William area were associated with the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, about 1882; the points of origin of these Finns were in near-by Upper Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and northeastern Minnesota rather than in Finland. The number has grown considerably since those days: the census of 1941 recorded 2943 Finns in Port Arthur, 884 in Fort William, and - further evidence of the strong rural leaning of the Finns - 5627 in the hinterland. In the cities they work as carpenters, mechanics, laborers, salesmen, and independent businessmen, and for cooperatives, in which organizations the Finns are particularly capable.
The first Finns to settle in the Sudbury-Timmins district came in 1885. There were eleven of them. Typical of so many Finns, one Tom Jacobson15 was first employed in the mines, at Copper Cliff. In 1899 he settled on a farm near by, purchased out of his earnings; this farm is now operated by his son. In 1900, John Lahti became the second Finn to own a farm in the Sudbury-Timmins district, and he has been followed by numerous others.
Timmins itself acquired its first Finns, consisting of a single family, in 1910.16 Most of the Finns in Timmins and the so-called "Porcupine area" came from Cobalt, where they had worked in the silver mines until the ore ran out. A few immigrated from the copper and iron-ore country of Upper Michigan. The men engaged in lumbering, and the women found employment as household domestics. When the possibility of greater earnings in Timmins gold mines than in lumbering appeared likely, some Finns shifted to the mines. Today, Finns are engaged in both mining and lumbering, in farming, and a few in miscellaneous urban occupations. Most of today's farmers began their activity during the periods of depression, many of them as homesteaders, and by dint of hard work brought the wild and discouraging land into excellent productivity.
The Toronto-Hamilton Region
Here the Finns are more urban than elsewhere and therefore, in a sense, more concentrated. As in other centers, so in Toronto and Hamilton they work as laborers, as housemaids, in general business, and in the professions. But many find a way of spending what time they can in the forested lake areas, where they can fish, swim, or otherwise enjoy the stimulating "country air". Others have taken up permanent residence in the hinterland of these two cities, where they engage in farming. Few of them are located in the area intermediate between Toronto and Hamilton. This fact is not inconsistent with their usual distribution - to associate themselves with a kind of anchor city when possible, yet to attach themselves to the back country.
The Finns in Canada have been successful trail blazers and capable frontiersmen. They have demonstrated here, as in the United States, that in occupying and taming wild new country, geographically similar to their native land, they have no peers. Their occupance of lands that are "like home" illustrates concretely the critical importance, in any land settlement, of careful selection, and encouragement by those responsible, of peoples whose original habitat has many characteristics in common with the region to be developed.
1 Earlier studies by the writer relating to Finnish settlement and response to the natural environment include the following: The Finn in America, Geogr. Rev,., Vol. 6, 1918, pp, 185-214; Finland - The Republic Farthest North: The Response of Finnish Life to Its Geographic Environment (Columbus, 1929); The Problem of Scientific Settlement As Illustrated by the Finns, Comptes Rendus Congr. Internatl. de Geogr., Paris, 1931, Vol. 3, Paris, 1934, pp. 281-287; The Finns of the Pacific Coast of the United States, and Consideration of the Problem of Scientific Land Settlement, Annals Assn. of Amer. Geogrs., Vol. 30, 1940, pp. 25-38.
2Temperatures are not greatly different from those in Finland, except in the Victoria-Vancouver region. In the parts of Canada where most of the Finns have settled, the average temperature in February, Finland's coldest month, ranges from 8º F. to 21º F.; in Finland the range is from 14º F. near the southwest coast to 21º F. in the interior. In a few Finnish centers in Canada, January is the coldest month, with such extreme averages as -2.6º F. in Winnipeg and +5.5º F. in Edmonton. For July, the average in Canada ranges from 61º F. to 69º F., in Finland from 54º F. to 60º F. Absolute extremes in Canada both in summer and in winter are greater than in Finland, but they do not occur at such times as to cause any particularly unsatisfactory situations for the Finns.
3J. H. Wuorinen: The Finns on the Delaware, 1638-1655 (New York, 1938), p. 55.
4J. M. Gibbon: Canadian Mosaic (Toronto, 1938), p. 255.
5Willard Ireland, provincial librarian and archivist, Victoria, B. C., who kindly forwarded certain data supplied to him by Helge Ekengren, Finnish vice-consul at Vancouver.
6J. B. Hedges: Building the Canadian West (New York, 1939), p. 48, quoting Order in Council No. 250, Feb. 7, 1891.
7Correspondence with the Department of Immigration and Colonization of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, Montreal, 1950.
8Op. cit. This and the following quotation are on p. 256 and pp. 256-257 respectively.
9J. I. Kolehmainen: Harmony Island, A Finnish Utopian Venture in British Columbia, British Columbia Hist. Quart., Vol. 5, 1941, pp. 111-123.
11Letter from Mr. John Ferguson, Edmonton, Sept. 26, 1950.
13Changes in definition account in part for a total smaller than that in 1941.
14Told by Mrs. Martha (Savilaakso) Norlen of Winnipeg. For this material and other data appreciation is expressed to Mrs. Norlen.
15Reported by Jacobson, one of the eleven, interviewed by a contributor to "Suomalaiset Nikkelialuella [Finns in the Nickel District]", a booklet published in 1937 to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Finnish Organization of Canada. Nickel was discovered in the Sudbury district about 1848. Parts of this booklet were translated for the writer by Dr. S. Salomaa of Turku, Finland, visitor in Ohio.
16Statement by V. Salomaa, city clerk of Timmins, and himself a Finn.
Dr. Van Cleef is professor of geography at The Ohio State University, Columbus. His long-standing interest in the Baltic and Scandinavian countries has been reflected in several books and numerous articles, among them "East Baltic Ports and Boundaries" in the Geographical Review for April, 1945.
Published in The Geographical Review 1952, p. 253-266.
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